Beef is a staple in kitchens around the world, valued for its flavor and nutrition. Recent research on the issue has only served to demonstrate that the beef industry in fact uses sustainability practices at every stage of production.
Today’s farmers and ranchers who supply beef to the United States and around the world are committed to more sustainable practices than ever before. Studies conducted in recent years provide a broader picture of the real impact of beef production in the United States and how it compares to environmental challenges around the world.
1. Beef production has lower greenhouse gas emissions than other sources.
Greenhouse gas emissions from beef cattle represent only 2 percent of total emissions in the United States, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. In contrast, transportation accounts for 29% of GHG emissions and electricity accounts for nearly 28% of GHG emissions in the United States. The production of beef cattle as a whole, including the production of animal feed, is only responsible for 3.7% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States (Source: Environmental Protection Agency)
2. Beef production also has a lower global carbon footprint
The United States is a leader in sustainable beef production, with a carbon footprint 10 to 50 times smaller than other regions of the world, despite being the third largest beef producer in the world. The United States produces 18 percent of the world’s beef – with just 6 percent of the world’s livestock. (Source: Food and
United Nations Agriculture Organization.)
3. The beef industry has helped reduce emissions.
Between 1961 and 2018, the American beef industry, through continued efforts at sustainability and better use of resources, reduced emissions per pound of beef by more than 40 percent while producing over 66% of beef in more per animal. If the rest of the world were as efficient as the United States, we could more than double global beef production, providing more high-quality protein to a growing population. (Sources: USDA-Nass, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)
4. Ranching protects ecosystems.
Pastures 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 of retail beef. Specifically, beef cattle provide several important ecosystem services, such as converting non-digestible plant fibers into protein and recycling nutrients in the soil.
5. Cattle convert plants into protein.
Cattle don’t just recycle, they recycle. Beef cattle generate more protein for human consumption than there would be without them, as their unique digestive system allows them to convert plants that are inedible for humans into high-quality protein. As the world’s population grows, animals like beef cattle are needed to help produce more protein with less.
In addition, about 29 percent of the land in the contiguous United States is pastures and rangelands that are too rocky, steep, or arid to support crop agriculture, but these lands are home to cattle, sheep, and goats, resulting in a protein recycling. (Sources: Agricultural Science and Technology Council, National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. 2016)
Learn more about beef and sustainability at oklabeef.org/raising-beef.