Belgian beef farms have smoothly, almost spontaneously taken the road to produceing sustainable beef: That is the conclusion to be drawn from the early results of a brand new ‘Sustainability Monitor’, published by Belbeef, the Belgian trade organisation for the beef industry. ^>
The first seeds of Belbeef and the Sustainability Monitor were planted back in 1995. “Our first initiative was a specifications guide called ‘Meritus’”,remembers Tom De Winter, chairman of Belbeef.
“the aftermath of the so-called ‘dioxin crisis’ led to the publication of a sector guide for the beef industry – which later became the General Specifications Guide for Livestock Farms. It was the actual start of a profound and general movement of awareness and professionalism among Belgian meat producers.”
“The ‘General Specifications Guide for Livestock Farms’ contains and records all agreements between distribution, supermarkets, wholesale meat companies, abbatoirs and livestock farms. It describes in detail all mandatory conditions concerning animal health, feed and breed, transportation, environment, slaughter and processing. And now, today, we have the Sustainability Monitor…”
Tom De Winter: “It’s a standardised audit of the sector by the sector. Based on a checklist of 45 initiatives the inquiry assesses the sustainability efforts made by individual Belgian cattle farmers. Farmers who take part in the inquiry do so voluntarily and the whole process is based on an extensive questionnaire.”
“This first edition is a benchmark in itself”, says Tom De Winter. “It is the very first time that the sustainability of almost 4,000 Belbeef affiliated cattle farmers is being monitored. Which means that the results of this first edition will serve as a historic base measurement.”
“The Sustainability Monitor was initiated in 2018, and we now have references that allow us to asses our progress The Sustainability Monitor will be enacted once every three years to monitor progress at the participating farms. Sustainability is a dynamic and on-going process and the entire sector is willing to deliver continuous efforts in order to keep improving.“
Tom De Winter: “Well, the initiative came entirely from Belbeef and it is executed and validated by the entire meat sector. We have incorporated a number of independent control mechanisms. The monitor is managed by Belbeef, but it is audited by no less than 10 independent organisations.”
At the time of the first analysis, three quarters of our affiliate farmers had already filled in the questionnaire.
Tom De Winter: “There are in total 45 initiatives, and each one is very diverse, ranging from permanent grassland to carbon capturing, sustainable energy or actions taken by individual farmers to promote biodiversity on their land.”
Tom De Winter: “I would say it is very typical. The thorough and sustained self-regulation that the Belgian meat sector applies to itself is really unique. We are the only country that assigns the burden of proof completely to the producers. These initiatives are conceived and organized at the request of the Belgian pork- and beef companies.”
Internationally and in terms of sustainability, sector-control and self-regulation, Belgium is definitely the blue-eyed boy, no doubt about that.
Tom De Winter: “It is not mandatory, no, but the farmers’ commitment is enormous nonetheless. The willingness to take part in the survey and to initiate improvements illustrates that. This commitment is changing the whole landscape, environmental protection organisations’ interests, for instance, used to be contrary to those of our producers’. Today, both parties have become partners in sustainability, working together in mutual understanding and respect. That is also a result of the Belgian meat sector’s combined efforts.”
“As we speak, 84% of all Belgian cattle farmers have filled in the Monitor. And I’m expecting a full 100% coverage for the next edition.”
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