May 26, 2020
Sustainability. Grass fed beef. These buzzwords come with many questions. Is grass fed more sustainable than regular beef? In this article, we tackle some of the toughest questions to help you understand just how green grass fed beef is.
Q: What is sustainability?
A: Sustainability can carry many different meanings. Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. defines sustainability as the process of “producing safe, nutritious beef while balancing environmental stewardship, social responsibility and economic viability.” At Grass Run Farms, we define sustainability as the “responsibility of meeting the needs of the present while improving the ability of future generations to responsibly meet their own needs.”
When you consider these definitions, Grass Run Farms focuses on five core areas to ensure we are continuously improving our sustainability efforts.
Water: Water is a critical resource to Grass Run Farms cattle. Our cattle not only depend on water for drinking, but for precipitation (rain) to grow the forages and grass cattle consume. Experienced farmers and ranchers work year-round with the natural cycle of the soil and the water supply to grow the forages and grass cattle consume throughout the year.
Energy and climate change: Reducing Grass Run Farms cattle’s impact on climate change is critically important. To do this, our producers utilize resources efficiently to meet the needs of the animal and maintain healthy soils and grasslands to promote carbon sequestration (more on that below).
Animal welfare: Our cattle have access to pasture during the local growing season for several reasons, but the primary purpose of this is to maintain great herd health and consistent feed consumption throughout the winter months when forage availability is limited. Our family ranchers are outstanding stewards of their land and livestock and they hold animal welfare in high regard because it’s the right thing to do.
Team member health and safety: Everyone in an operation must follow the same procedures for employee safety and well-being, as well as animal health and well-being. Our team cannot be sustainable for long-term success without protecting the safety, health, and welfare of our employees.
Product integrity: Our cattle receive a consistent grass/forage diet year-round to ensure we produce high quality, great tasting, American, 100% grass fed beef. Additionally, we process our cattle in state-of-the-art facilities where product specifications are followed each week.
Q: How does beef production impact the environment?
A: The production of all types of food results in emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), direct emissions from the U.S. beef industry are only estimated to be 1.9% (1) of the total U.S. GHG emissions. Beef producers, ranchers, crop growers, and suppliers are doing their part to make that footprint as small as possible.
Efficiency and yield: Compared to 40+ years ago, today’s beef producers provide the same amount of beef with 33% fewer cattle through improved animal health and welfare, nutrition, and genetics. This equates to a 16% lower carbon footprint for every pound of beef produced.
Respect for the environment: Many grass fed beef producers practice regenerative agriculture, ensure careful production, and uphold the tenets of sustainable management. Experienced farmers and ranchers work year-round with the natural cycle of the land, the sun, and the water supply.
Commitment to local economies: Although grass fed beef production is only a very small segment of the total beef producing economy, it is one of the fastest growing segments of the industry. Grass fed beef production gives producers a more direct connection to consumers who are buying their beef and the ability to commit to the health and growth of their local communities.
Q: Which creates a smaller carbon footprint—grass finished beef or grain finished beef?
A: There is not one correct answer. As Beef Checkoff states, grain finished beef has a lower carbon footprint due to increased production efficiency. However, grass finished cattle can contribute to sustainability by using forage from grasslands that sequester carbon. (2)
But, what is carbon sequestering? This is the process of CO2 being removed from the atmosphere and stored in soil. (3) Grass fed and finished cattle play an important role in increasing carbon sequestration and, apart from this process, grass fed cattle contribute to reducing, reusing, and recycling … and that’s called upcycling.
The image via The Beef Checkoff Program.
Q: How do grass fed cattle upcycle?
A: Nope, we’re not talking about turning old wine corks into succulent planters. In agriculture, upcycling refers to turning materials that would otherwise be discarded into a higher-value product. (4) Cattle are ruminants, and this gives them a true upcycling superpower. Their specialized stomach compartments upcycle plant-based leftovers that are inedible to humans into high-quality protein packed with essential micronutrients!
Q: So, what does this mean for you as a green-minded beef eater?
A: Let’s look at the bottom line: beef production does make a small footprint, but smart choices and an understanding of what sustainability is can help you shop smart and eat green all while keeping nutritious beef in your diet. A key component in reducing GHG emissions from beef production is reducing edible beef waste at grocery stores, restaurants, and in the home. So, eat your beef and get educated on food safety so your beef never goes to waste.
Statistics in this article are sourced from The Beef Checkoff Program, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner., and the USDA. See more resources below. For any questions about this research, please contact us here.