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 last week in Denver.
Assistant Professor Dr. Jude L. Capper, researcher from Washington State University, 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 program, provided funding for this research, along with Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Washington beef councils.
"Our Council was asked to step up and help fund this needed research," said Dan Cook, cattle producer from New Providence, and Chair of the Iowa Beef Industry Council. "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."
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 environmental impact must be conveyed to government, 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.