Raising beef requires fewer natural resources: study

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Raising 1 lb. of beef in the United States today requires significantly fewer natural resources, such as land, water, feed and fuel than in the past, according to a study published in the December issue of the Journal of Animal Science.

Each pound of beef raised in 2007 used 33 percent less land, 12 percent less water, 19 percent less feed and 9 percent less fossil fuel energy than equivalent beef production in 1977, documents the study titled The Environmental Impact of Beef Production in the United States: 1977 compared with 2007 by Jude Capper, Ph.D., Washington State Univ. Waste outputs decreased the carbon footprint of beef by 16.3 percent in 30 years.

Improvements in the way cattle are raised and fed in the US between 1977 and 2007 resulted in 13 percent more total beef from 30 percent fewer animals, Capper’s research revealed. Raising more beef from less animals maximizes natural resources while providing essential nutrients for the human diet, the study added

While the world population increases, improvements demonstrated during the past three decades to meet demand for nutrient-rich beef while reducing resource use and mitigating environmental impact must continue. The global population, which is now 7 billion, will increase to 9.5 billion by the year 2050, the author said.

As the population increases and the quality of diets in many countries around the world improves, the demand for nutrient-rich protein like beef will increase, Capper said. “At the same time, resources like land, water and fossil fuels will become increasingly scarce,” he added. “These realities are like two trains speeding toward each other on the same track. If we listen to alarmists shouting at us to slow down, we could face a head-on collision of epic proportions. The only way to avoid this disaster is to accelerate the pace of progress.”

Much of the reduction in beef’s environmental footprint is credited to raising cattle on grass pastures before finishing them on an optimal balanced diet of grasses, grains and other forages in a feedyard, Capper said. Each pound of grain-finished beef needs 45 percent less land, 76 percent less water and 49 percent less feed, and at the same time generates 51 percent less manure and 42 percent fewer carbon emissions than grass-finished beef, according to previous research conducted by Capper.

Focusing resources to provide more nutrient-rich foods like beef, which provides more than 10 percent of the daily recommended value of 10 essential nutrients and vitamins for less than 10 percent of daily calories – based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet – is a major success factor in meeting nutrition needs at domestically and internationally, Capper says.

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