Sharing Animal Welfare and Environment Best Practices in Germany
March 19, 2020
Each winter, an association of cattle farmers in Germany gets together to assess how its members are doing — how sales have been, what the outlook is like for the future. This winter, OSI’s Andrea Munoz had the opportunity to attend the general assembly and share information on sustainability opportunities in the supply chain. After leaving the meeting, Munoz was excited about the interest she received from farmers, who asked her how they could get on board.
“It was really good,” said Munoz, OSI’s Sustainability Lead in Europe. “That night I got interest from at least 10 to 15 farmers … and I’m sure there will be more in a few weeks.”
For the last seven months, Munoz, who is based in Germany, has been working to engage and support OSI suppliers on sustainability projects, including the two projects she pitched to 120 members of the cattle farming group EG Kaufbeuren: The first is a free training on safe cattle handling, and the second is a voluntary questionnaire that can help farmers get a clearer picture of how well they are doing on important sustainability benchmarks, like greenhouse gas emissions.
The projects are aimed at advancing OSI’s sustainability goals, as well as the goals of industry-wide sustainable beef programs supported by OSI’s customers, such as the BEST Beef farm assurance program launched in 2010, and the European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability (ERBS).
As an important beef processor in Germany, OSI has played a key role in supporting the BEST Beef program, which offers financial incentives to cattle farmers who meet certain animal welfare and sustainable farm management standards. Around 3,600 farms, 10 producer groups and six processing facilities in Germany have already signed up, including a significant share of the farmers Munoz met with.
YOUNG FARMERS EMBRACE SUSTAINABILITY
“The manager of the producer group [I met with] is, at the moment, the one working the hardest for farmers to be sustainable and to achieve BEST Beef targets in Germany,” Munoz said. (She explained that in Germany, all cattle farmers are members of producer groups, which organize cattle transport and negotiate on behalf of their members.) EG Kaufbeuren is also one of OSI’s largest beef suppliers in Germany.
So Munoz was eager to speak at the group’s general assembly, both for the crucial facetime with OSI-linked farmers, and for a chance to engage the audience on sustainable farming practices, to which some have already shown a commitment.
“There are many challenges for farmers in Germany, but you have a lot of young people that know they have to do something [about sustainability] and are willing to do it, if you just provide best practice examples to them,” she said.
BUILDING ON EXISTING SUSTAINABLE FARMING PRACTICES
Munoz presented a sustainability questionnaire, as part of her pitch that helps farmers to identify their current carbon footprint, and benchmark themselves against the industry average. This can help farmers identify their current positioning, and make improvements based on best practices.
Munoz knows how busy farmers are and reassured them that the data compiled from the questionnaire will ultimately make their lives easier.
The results from the questionnaire are also aggregated to give OSI and their customers more accurate data about what is happening on the farms where the food originates. “The idea is to gather the right information and ensure our supply chain decisions are based on information that reflects our farmers.”
Finally, the questionnaire is important for BEST Beef administrators as they apply for recognition from the ERBS, a group of European beef industry stakeholders committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, limiting the use of animal antibiotics, boosting animal welfare and improving farm management practices. Results can show them how committed BEST Beef farmers already are to these goals.
TALKING SUSTAINABLE BEEF OVER A COFFEE
OSI representatives, including Munoz, have already supported farmers in understanding their impacts both inside and outside of Germany.
“It’s really nice,” Munoz said. “You get there, you drink a coffee with them, you talk a little about how the situation is for farmers. Then you start the questionnaire.”
Munoz documents a range of data on everything from animal mortality to antibiotic usage and GHG emissions. Farmers, for example, are asked about the average number of animals on their farm the previous year, how they grazed, what they ate, how they are transported, and how much energy is consumed on the farm. This sort of information is used to help calculate emissions, which farmers can keep track of via an online portal. “Then next year they can log in and see how their carbon footprint has increased or decreased,” Munoz said.
The younger generation of farmers is particularly interested in sustainability and applying new technology, she said. “They are interested in the environment, they are interested in seeing how much CO2 they produce and how good their practices are.”
UNDERSTANDING ANIMAL WELFARE AND READING CATTLE
Farmers were also interested in the cattle handling training Munoz offered, which advances BEST Beef’s and OSI’s commitment to improving farm safety and animal welfare. “Of course, they already know their cattle very well,” she said. But the training, paid for by Germany’s agricultural insurance and organized by OSI and OSI’s customers, shows farmers examples of best practices to reduce accidents. Munoz said. “Safety is important in all our workplaces, but especially when you are dealing with 500kg animals.”
The training is part theory and part demonstration. “[Trainers] show you how you can move your animals without really touching them, and how to understand what the animals are trying to communicate, and how to react appropriately.”
BEST Beef plans to offer the training to 200 farms.
SUSTAINABLE FARMING BUILT THROUGH RELATIONSHIPS
Beyond recruiting more farmers to OSI’s sustainability projects, Munoz was most excited to attend the producer group meeting to deepen OSI’s and BEST Beef’s relationship with farmers it works with every day. “The most important thing is the engagement with the suppliers, with the producer group,” Munoz said. “This is one of the first times that I got to be part of such an event and it was encouraging to be recognized for the value we can provide to the farmers. We showed farmers that we will provide direction, share best practices and set industry standards, while supporting their own continuous improvement goals.”