THE head of sustainability for one of the world’s largest meat processing companies says an industry-wide commitment to minimising its carbon footprint will be fundamental to remaining viable into the future and continuing to feed the globe’s growing population.

Ian McConnel is the director of international sustainability for Arkansas-based multinational Tyson Foods, which is the world’s second largest processor behind JBS and in 2020 ranked No.79 on the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest corporations by total revenue.

McConnel, who is also president of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, delivered the keynote address at the 2022 Protein Conference being hosted by Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise (TSBE) in Dalby this week.

He said the biggest challenge for stakeholders in the world’s meat supply chain would be meeting the new age consumer’s growing demand for produce that has convincing sustainability and climate friendly credentials.

“There is a lot of progress in protein sustainability that already exists but I’m not sure it’s in the right place in terms of actually creating value just yet,” McConnel said.

“I’m not sure the consumer likes modern agriculture, especially the way it’s being portrayed to them or the way we’re failing to communicate the gains we’ve made, especially around efficiency, safety and costs.

“The millennial customer, who is the largest customer for our beef, wants a climate claim more than any other claim.

“We’ve tried (calling the industry’s environment friendly efforts) “regenerative” and “sustainable”, but it’s “climate” and “carbon” that they want.

“They want it called that. They know that it’s the world’s number one issue. They want it called that and they want to be able to make informed choices on it.”

The annual TSBE Protein Conference in Dalby brings together stakeholders from across the beef, pork and poultry supply chains. IMAGE: MRP Images

McConnel said Tyson Foods had begun formulating metrics and indicators to measure an animal’s “quality of life”, and that conveying to consumers a high standard of animal welfare practices depended in improving worker training across the industry.

“We need to be able to measure animal welfare more accurately and more quickly in some pretty challenging scenarios in the beef industry,” McConnel said.

“In savannah lands across the gulf (of Carpentaria) and in Brazilian forests, we’re going to have to know that animals are being cared for because there is a growing global communication challenge for us around sustainability.”

Meeting the meat sector’s carbon emission reduction targets was also essential, McConnell said, with Tyson aiming to reduce its global net emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

He said improving traceability and transparency was also necessary.

“If there’s a recall we’re able to trace backwards, but currently there’s no way to tell the story of our beef to our customer and to our markets,” McConnell said.

“What is required is transparency and traceability in a way that’s meaningful – to allow producers, when they put their animals in the feedlot, to say that it’s a 450kg Droughtmaster cross with two tonnes of carbon attached to it, with an improved water credit and a biodiversity credit.

“That’s the call to action.”

The TSBE Protein Conference is one of the only events in Australia which brings together stakeholders from across the pork, poultry, dairy and beef sectors.

It is held annually in Dalby. The wider Darling Downs region comprises 60 percent of Australia’s feedlot cattle and 80 percent of Queensland and NSW pork and chicken production.

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