A New Standard for Cattle Farms Promotes Sustainable Production

August 31, 2010

The Rainforest Alliance, an international conservation organization, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) -- through the Environmental and Labor Excellence Program for CAFTA-DR (ELE) -- launched today the Standard for Sustainable Cattle Production Systems, a tool that will help cattle farmers implement good environmental, social and animal-welfare practices and enable them to voluntarily apply for the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal of approval.

This is the first tropical sustainable cattle standard developed for a voluntary certification system. It will be available to cattle farms in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Oceania that are interested in improving their environmental, social, labor and operational performance and marketing their products with the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal.

The standard, which only applies to farms where cattle have access to pasture, includes the following principles: integrated management systems, sustainable pasture management, animal welfare and carbon-footprint reduction. Together with the existing environmental, social and labor criteria of the general Sustainable Agriculture Standard, the cattle-farming criteria will be used to conduct future certification audits.

Cattle

This initiative is expected to help mitigate many of the problems associated with cattle production, including deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and animal abuse and cruelty. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately 26 percent of the Earth's surface is used for pasture, and cattle production is one of the main drivers of deforestation. In addition, cattle farms are responsible for 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

The cattle certification standard is the result of efforts by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), whose Secretariat is based at the Rainforest Alliance offices in San José, Costa Rica. The development of the standard began with a public consultation process in 2007 and included the SAN's close collaboration with the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE), through their Cattle Production and Environmental Management program (Ganadería Ambiental y Medio Ambiente), which has been working on the issue of sustainable cattle production in Latin America since 1995.

As part of the consultation process, over 130 organizations from 34 countries provided feedback, and workshops were held in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Brazil, Colombia and Honduras. These workshops included the participation of cattle producers and leaders of their industry associations, university and ministry officials and representatives of environmental and animal-welfare NGOs. The standard was later tested in Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Kenya and Nicaragua, and the SAN International Standards Committee gave its final approval in July 2010.

One of USAID's main objectives is to establish alliances along the entire value chain -- among producers, processors, exporters and large regional and international buyers -- in order to find opportunities and markets for the products that meet environmental and labor standards.

The SAN is a coalition of independent conservation organizations promoting social and environmental sustainability in agricultural production through the development of global standards. Since 1992, almost 700 certificates have been issued for over 65,000 farms -- including small family farms and groups of farms as well as plantations -- in 28 countries, covering an area of nearly 1.35 million acres (550,000 hectares) and the production of 21 different crops.