The Beef Checkoff this week released the results of a new study focusing on beef sustainability – the inputs and outputs needed to produce a pound of boneless, edible beef – finding that in six years, sustainability has improved 5%.
Released Thursday during the 2013 Cattle Industry Summer Conference, the assessment is the most detailed examination of a commodity value chain ever completed, says Richard Gebhart, cow-calf producer from Claremore, Okla., and sustainability committee member.
The study takes into account every aspect of beef production from the growth of feed to the disposal of packaging by the final consumer.
"We examined all the inputs and outputs required to produce a pound of boneless, edible beef and we did that for the 1970s, 2005 and 2011," says Gebhart, explaining that the 1970s and 2005 each represents major shifts in beef production practices, while 2011 represents present-day.
Crop yield and irrigation improvements, packing innovations, technology improvements and better animal performance contributed to the 5% improvement noted in the latest study.
"The completion of the life cycle assessment project provides the industry, for the first time, the science-based evidence necessary to lead conversations about the sustainability of beef," says Kim Stackouse-Lawson, Ph.D., director of sustainability for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
"We examined millions of individual data points and then created models to simulate specific aspects of beef production practices so that this data and these results are truly representative of beef production in the United States," Stackhouse-Lawson says.
As for cold, hard numbers, Stackhouse-Lawson notes that between 2005 and 2011, the beef industry has:
• Reduced environmental impacts by 7%;
• Improved its overall sustainability by 5%
• Reduced emissions to soil by 7%
• Reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2%
• Lowered acidification potential emissions by 3%
• Reduced emissions to water by 10%
• Lessened occupational accidents and illnesses by 32%
• Reduced resource consumption by 2%
• Decreased water use by 3%
• Decreased land use by 4%
• Lowered energy use by 2%
"When we talk about the sustainability of an industry, that's what it's all about, getting better over time. As an industry, beef is doing a good job at making progress on the path toward a more sustainable future. The certification of these results confirms that," Stackhouse-Lawson says.
For more on beef sustainability, visit Jesse Bussard's blog, Beef's 'Sustainability' Involves More Than Greenhouse Gases.