Advances in Beef Production Have Reduced Carbon Footprint
DENVER - According to a new study presented last week, advances in productivity over the past 30 years have reduced the carbon footprint of modern beef production in the United States. The study, funded in part by the Kansas Beef Council (KBC), was conducted by Washington State University assistant professor Jude Capper and compared the environmental profile of the U.S. beef industry in 2007 to its historical production practices in 1977.
Capper’s research revealed improvements in nutrition, management, growth rate and processing weights, significantly have reduced the environmental impact of modern beef production and improved its sustainability. When compared to beef production in 1977, each pound of beef produced with modern practices used 10 percent less feed energy, 20 percent less feedstuffs, 30 percent less land, 14 percent less water and 9 percent less fossil fuel energy. In addition, there were 13 percent fewer animals processed in 2007 than in 1977, but those animals produced 13 percent more beef. By producing more beef with fewer resources, Capper found the total carbon footprint for beef production was reduced by 18 percent from 1977 to 2007. During her presentation at the American Society of Animal Science meeting in Denver, Capper said these findings challenge the common misconception that historical methods of livestock production are more environmentally sustainable than modern beef production.
“It’s important to note that all food production has an environmental impact, but significant improvements in efficiency have clearly reduced the greenhouse gas emissions and overall environmental impact of beef production,” said Capper. “Contrary to the negative image often associated with modern farming, fulfilling the U.S. population’s requirement for high-quality, nutrient-rich protein while improving environmental stewardship can only be achieved by using contemporary agricultural technologies and practices.”
The study used a whole-system environmental model that integrated all resource inputs and waste outputs within the beef production chain, from crop production to beef arriving at the processing plant. Other state beef councils that joined KBC in supporting this project through a research grant include Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Washington.