Beef’s ‘footprint’ continues to shrink

A study published in this month’s Journal of Animal Science found that raising a pound of beef in the U.S. today uses significantly fewer natural resources—Including land, water, feed, and fuel—than in the past.

The paper, written by Dr. Jude Capper of Washington State University, compared the environmental impact of U.S. beef production in 1977 to that of 2007.  She found beef produced in 2007 used 33 percent less land, 12 percent less water, 19 percent less feed and nine percent less fossil fuel energy than what was used 30 years earlier.

According to Capper’s research, improvements in the way cattle are raised and fed in the U.S. between 1977 and 2007 yielded 13 percent more total beef from 30 percent fewer animals.  She attributes much of the reduction in beef’s environmental footprint to improved diets in the feedyard and the use of technologies to improve the ability of cattle to convert feed to pounds of beef—reducing the amount of land, water and fossil fuels it takes to raise beef.

Capper’s project was supported by the Beef Checkoff Program through a research grant from state beef councils in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota and Washington.

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