15 Jun 2018

Bird-friendly beef showcased by Hilton Hotels

A new mode of farming is taking off in South America. The pampas is one the world’s most important grassland biomes: but intensive farming is wearing it down. Now, a scheme for sustainable, bird-friendly meat is getting prestigious recognition.

Ranchers herding sustainably-raised cattle © Grasslands Alliance
By Samantha Moreno and Daniela Paz

Just six months after making its debut in Europe, bird-friendly beef is making a splash across the continent. This April, it was showcased at Hilton Hotels Food and Beverage Conference: an event organized to promote quality foods to hotel and restaurant chefs from across Europe. For the Southern Cone Grassland Alliance, it was the perfect opportunity to connect with industry professionals and tell the story behind their product.

The story is an inspiring one, concerning a landscape that lies deep within the heart of South America’s cultural identity – but one that risks being lost altogether. The pampas covers almost a million square kilometers, uniting Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina. It supports a staggering wealth of biodiversity, including 280 bird species. But 35 million people also depend on it to survive, most of them through agriculture and ranching. And that’s where the problem presently lies.

Industrial farming is sapping the soil of its nutrients. Cattle are increasingly confined to concentrated indoor feedlots, and the pastures that they once roamed are being replaced by intensively grown arable crops. It is estimated that 60% of the region´s soil now suffers from erosion. And that is a lot of soil: between 1970 and 1999, 23 million tons of nutrients were lost as a result of soy, wheat and corn cultivation.

At the moment, protected areas such as nature reserves cover only 2% of the pampas. So how can we balance wildlife with livelihoods? The answer lies in sustainable, organic farming – something that NGOs and governments are currently working together to advance. Their aim is to marry the three priorities of social development, economic growth and conservation into one initiative.

The Southern Cone Grassland Alliance unites BirdLife Partners in the region to promote organic, sustainable beef ranching that preserves native grassland and the wildlife it supports. The result is high-quality, ethical meat from cattle that are allowed to roam freely and enjoy a good quality of life.

This April in Barcelona, the Alliance was invited to display the results of its work at the Hilton Hotels Food and Beverage Conference. Around the same time, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) organized its third Sustainable Livestock Forum. The Southern Cone Grassland Alliance held two workshops about its methods, spreading the word of its regional impact and unique techniques further.

It looks like word of the Alliance’s success is beginning to get out. Since last year, its bird-friendly beef has been selling well throughout Europe, distributed by its Netherlands-based partner company, Nice to Meat. We hope that the Alliance’s involvement in conferences such as these will continue to advance the dialogue on how to preserve South America’s precious grasslands.

BirdLife International is a conservation organization working to protect birds and habitats around the world. If you would like to support our work, why not make a donation today?