The Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) first defined sustainable agriculture in the tropics in the early 1990s. Its rigorous and comprehensive standard is used on more than 2 million farms in 45 countries. In fact, the Rainforest Alliance certification is based on this standard. The Food Alliance developed a similar standard for ranching and farming in the United States, certifying hundreds of operations covering more 5 million acres of agricultural lands. In addition, there are standards that focus on specific issues, such as grass-fed, organic, and animal welfare.
In 2012, NRDC began researching standards for more sustainable livestock production in the United States. NRDC first reviewed the best science to identify the most important impacts of poor management, and better management practices (BMPs) that can remedy each impact. In the process, NRDC consulted with dozens of stakeholders—from ranchers and extension specialists to corporate beef buyers and nonprofit advocates—to understand the economic and social barriers to improving ranch and farm management.
NRDC then evaluated existing ranch and farm certification programs and found that most standards address only a small subset of supply chain impacts. Food Alliance emerged as the most comprehensive standard for U.S. crops and livestock, but showed limited market uptake. The SAN standard used by Rainforest Alliance was comprehensive and is growing quickly, but only covers ranches and farms in tropical regions outside the United States and Canada.
In response, NRDC teamed up with both the Food Alliance and the Rainforest Alliance to form the Grasslands Alliance. This new program accounts for the health of grassland ecosystems and wildlife, how ranchers and farmers grow grass and feed crops, and whether cattle are treated humanely and workers are treated fairly. In addition, it incentivizes ranchers and farmers to adopt cutting-edge, climate-smart strategies.