3/1/2019 12:00:00 AM
U.S. Beef and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Accusations against the beef industry, including Iowa’s 28,000 beef producers, have recently been included in The Green New Deal and EAT-Lancet.
However, research shows that eliminating meat consumption would only have a very minor impact on the environment. "In fact," says Matt Deppe, CEO of the Iowa Cattlemen's Association, "removing all livestock and poultry from the U.S. food system would only reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by less than one-half of one percent."
Concerns about livestock and greenhouse gases (GHG) generally reflect a world-wide view of livestock production. Because of advances in animal health, animal welfare, genetics and nutrition in the U.S., our beef has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world, 10 to 50 times lower than some nations, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA also reports that greenhouse gas emissions from cattle only account for 2% of U.S. GHG emissions.
The concerns also fail to take into account the incredible advances made by US farmers and ranchers. Research from the Beef Checkoff Program shows that since 1977, today’s beef farmers and ranchers produce the same amount of beef with 33% fewer cattle.
In Iowa, cattle are able to maximize land use and utilize resources that might otherwise go to waste. In our state, cattle often graze hillsides not suitable for row crops. They also consume grain grown by Iowa’s farmers, and make use of crop residue, ethanol co-products, and cover crops as feed. Cattle then return the nutrients back to the land via manure. It’s a continuous cycle of growth and regeneration.
Corn-fed cattle from Iowa are truly part of the solution, not the problem. Compared to beef from other parts of the world, like Brazil or Australia, which often comes from grass-fed cattle, grain-fed cattle have up to a 67.5% lower carbon footprint. This is due heavier carcass weights, a shorter time spent on feed, and a higher energy, lower forage diet.
Despite the myths about the beef industry, Iowans can proudly enjoy beef, knowing that its impact on greenhouse gas emissions is low and continues to decrease. For more information about beef’s impact on the environment, check out: Beef It’s Whats for Dinner (https://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/raising-beef/beef-in-a-sustainable-diet) and Beef Research (https://www.beefresearch.org/sustainability/index.html)
About the Iowa Cattlemen's Association: The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association represents nearly 10,000 beef-producing families and associated companies dedicated to the future of Iowa’s beef industry. ICA’s mission is “Grow Iowa’s beef business through advocacy, leadership and education.”
Editor's note: The following research papers provide more information about beef's impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
White, RR, Hall MB. Nutritional and greenhouse gas impacts of removing animals from US agriculture. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Nov 28;114(48):E10301-E10308.
Herrero et al., 2013. Proc. natl. Aca. Sci 110:20888-20893. US EPA Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2014. Availble at: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-04/documents/us-ghg-inventory-2016-main-text.pdf
Capper, J.L. 2012. Is the grass always greener? Comparing the environmental impact of conventional, natural and grass-fed beef production systems. Animals. 2:127-143