The sustainability of Australian beef earns Ken Toong's approval

umass australian beef chefs ken toong

From Meat & Livestock Australia.

Sustainability isn’t a new concept for The University of Massachusetts (UMass), but  the university’s dining staff recently realized that “sustainable” doesn’t always mean “local.”

Ken Toong, executive director of auxiliary services at UMass in Amherst, Mass., recently traveled to Australia on Meat & Livestock Australia’s sustainability-themed tour to witness this firsthand, as he learned exactly how Australian beef and lamb are sustainably and responsibly produced.

“I chose to go on this trip to take away some of the mystery,” says Toong, who oversees UMass Dining Services, a self-op that serves approximately 45,000 meals every day. “I wanted to know about the standards in Australia.”

During the tour, Toong visited several Australian beef and lamb farms, where he saw the care and efficiency with which the Australian producers treated the animals. “What impressed me was the passion from the ranchers and farmers,” says Toong. “The beef is natural; they do a good job.”

The group visited production plants during the tour as well, where Toong saw that the processing facilities were very clean, safe and employed best practice processing techniques and advanced supply chain technologies.

Toong also noticed the farmers’ use of natural resources—many houses have solar panels, and Australians catch rain water for reuse—as well as their overall commitment to sustainability, both of which contribute to the country’s meat production overall. “It’s all very efficient,” he says. “We can get grass-fed beef here, but the volume isn’t there, and price is an issue. With Australian beef, the price is better, and the beef is very consistent in terms of leanness and quality.”

The sustainable production of Australian beef aligns closely with what UMass students are looking for, according to Toong, which makes it an especially natural fit with his operation. Students seek fresher, less processed foods, and they want cleaner labels. It’s also healthy—grass-fed beef has less saturated fat, so it marries well with UMass’s commitment to wellness.

“We’re finding many operators are taking a broader view of sustainability, particularly when it comes to proteins.” says Catherine Golding, Foodservice Business Development Manager for Meat & Livestock Australia, North America. “Increasingly it’s the total package – how animals were raised, fed and cared for, and not just food miles for food miles’ sake.”

Last fall, UMass Dining Services purchased 2,600 pounds of Australian 100% grass-fed beef for use in their Halloween surf-and-turf event, and it was a huge hit with students. “Knowing that the cows are eating better, more natural and healthier food is the best, as we are what we eat,” says UMass student Hweii Chiee Tan. “The grass-fed beef steaks definitely taste more flavorful.”

Others agreed. “The grass-fed beef tasted fantastic,” says UMass student Mike Nicholson. “It was very flavorful, cooked just right, and I went up for seconds.”

Toong says that the opportunity for beef from Australia to be used in the United States is a big one, and he plans to continue to use it at UMass. “Grass-fed beef trumps everything,” he says. “It satisfies students, and meets our sustainability goals.”

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