A pound of beef produced today has less of an environmental impact than it did in 1977, according to a new study presented at the 2010 Cattle Industry Summer Conference held in late July in Denver.
Assistant Professor Jude L. Capper, researcher from Washington State University, who headed the study, has revealed that improvements in nutrition, management, growth rate and slaughter weights have significantly reduced the environmental impact of modern beef production and improved its sustainability.
Iowa beef producers, through the beef checkoff, provided funding for the study along with Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Washington beef councils. “Our Iowa Beef Industry Council was asked to help fund this needed research,” says Dan Cook, cattle producer from New Providence and chair of the IBIC. “For beef farmers and ranchers in Iowa and across the nation, these findings help challenge the common misconception that historical methods of livestock production are more environmentally sustainable than modern beef production.”
Improvements have been made in efficiency and resource use
In 2007, there were 13% fewer animals slaughtered than in 1977 (33.8 million vs. 38.7 million), but those animals produced 13% more beef (26.3 billion pounds vs. 23.3 billion pounds.) By producing more beef with fewer resources, Capper found that the total carbon footprint for beef production was reduced by 18% from 1977 to 2007.
When compared to beef production in 1977, each pound of beef produced in modern systems used:
* 10% less feed energy
* 20% less feedstuffs
* 30% less land
* 14% less water
* 9% less fossil fuel energy
* 18% decrease in total carbon emissions (methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide)
“As the global and national population increases, consumer demand for beef is going to continue to increase,” Capper says. “The vital role of improved productivity and efficiency in reducing the environmental impact must be conveyed to government people, retailers and consumers.”
The study used a whole-system environmental model that integrated all resource inputs and waste outputs within the beef production system, from crop production to beef arriving at the slaughterhouse. For additional information about the study “Comparing the environmental impact of the U.S. beef industry in 1977 to 2007,” visit the Washington State University web sitecahnrsnews.wsu.edu/2010/07/14/environmental-sustainability-of-beef-production-has-improved-considerably-over-last-30-years-wsu-expert-says/