Beef is a staple in cuisines worldwide, valued for its flavor and nutrition. Recent research on the issue has only served to demonstrate that the beef industry does in fact employ sustainability practices throughout each stage of production.
Today's farmers and ranchers supplying beef to the U.S. and around the world have been engaging in more sustainable practices than ever before. Studies conducted in recent years offer a bigger picture of the actual impact of beef production in the U.S., and how it compares to environmental challenges around the world.
1. Beef production has a lower greenhouse gas emissions than other sources.
Greenhouse gas emissions from beef cattle only represent 2 percent of total emissions in the U.S., according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. By contrast, transportation accounts for 29 percent of GHG emissions, and electricity accounts for nearly 28 percent of GHG emissions in the United States. Beef cattle production as a whole, including production of animal feed, is responsible for only 3.7percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. (Source: Environmental Protection Agency)
2. Beef production also has a lower global carbon footprint
The U.S. is a leader in sustainable beef production, with a carbon footprint 10-50 times lower than in other regions worldwide, despite being the third largest producer of beef globally. The U.S. produces 18percent of the world's beef – with only 6 percent of the world's cattle. (Source: Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.)
3. Beef industry has helped reduce emissions.
Between 1961 and 2018, the U.S. beef industry, through continued sustainably efforts and improved resource use, has reduced emissions per pound of beef by more than 40 percent while also producing more than 66 precent more beef per animal. If the rest of the world were as efficient as the U.S., we could more than double global beef production, providing more high-quality protein for a growing population. (Sources: USDA-Nass, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations)
4. Ranching safeguards ecosystems.
Grazing lands also provide ecosystem services such as water regulation and purification, carbon sequestration and wildlife habitat. The value of these services is estimated at $24.5 billion or $1.24 per pound or retail beef. More specifically, beef cattle provide several important ecosystem services such as converting indigestible plant fiber into protein and cycling nutrients into the soil.
5. Cattle convert plants to protein.
Cattle not only upcycle, they recycle. Beef cattle generate more protein for the human food supply than would exist without them, because their unique digestive system allows them to convert human-inedible plants into high-quality protein. In the face of growing global population, animals like beef cattle are needed to help make more protein with less.
In addition, approximately 29 percent of the land in the contiguous U.S. is pasture and range land that is too rocky, steep or arid to support cultivated agriculture, yet this land supports cattle, sheep and goats – leading to protein upcycling. (Sources: Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016)
Learn more about beef and sustainability at oklabeef.org/raising-beef.