Sustainability Initiatives: Answering Beef’s Critics

Sustainability projects are critical to show consumers how beef plays a key role in providing an efficient, high-quality protein product.
Sustainability projects are critical to show consumers how beef plays a key role in providing an efficient, high-quality protein product.
(Wyatt Bechtel)

Misleading consumers is a popular tactic. Anti-meat and livestock zealots are adamant that beef production is a primary culprit in the degradation of the environment and therefore not sustainable.

British authors of a study published in June of this year, for instance, believe avoiding meat and dairy is the “single biggest way” for humans to combat climate change. “A vegan diet is probably the best way to reduce your impact on planet Earth,” said lead researcher Joseph Poor, University of Oxford, UK.

Such claims are not new. A 2007 report from The Environmental Defense Fund said that if each American replaced a chicken meal each week with plant-based foods, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads.

Whether or not such claims are valid, the constant barrage of anti-livestock messages have a negative effect on consumer attitudes. Your beef checkoff has already put into motion a plan to combat such messaging.

“In order to push back on claims that the beef industry is not sustainable, we need actual science and peer-reviewed evidence that beef is sustainable,” says Sara Place, NCBA Senior Director, Sustainable Beef Production Research. “That’s what the life cycle assessment and our other research is designed to do.”

Checkoff-funded projects already completed paint a much different picture about beef’s sustainability and how it fits into the modern food system. We already know, for instance, that cattle turn sunshine and photosynthesis from marginal land into edible protein. They also turn corn stalks, wheat straw and byproducts such as distillers’ grains and cottonseed meal into high-quality protein, too. One new checkoff-funded project shows the protein quality of animal products (milk, beef) are almost two times higher than potentially human edible protein inputs.

Other research focuses on how beef production impacts the environment, and one study finds energy use for cattle production is only 0.7% of the U.S. total.

While you may argue that ranching and beef production are already sustainable, the purpose of the checkoff-funded sustainability initiative is to prove it – to the politicians, activists, and most of all, to consumers.

More than 50% of millennials – the generation projected to overtake baby boomers in sheer numbers in 2019 – make an effort to buy products from companies that support the causes they care about, and they care about the environment.

Arming beef advocates with science-based sustainability facts is critical to ensuring robust demand for your products in the future.


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