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Searching for More Sustainable Beef Sector

20 September 2013

Research to improve sustainability of the US beef industry conducted for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association found 21 different hot spots for the industry to address.

The areas of concern were seven environmental hot spots, seven social and seven economic.

The researchers Thomas Battagliese, Juliana Andrade, Isabel Schulze,

and Bruce Uhlman for BASF Corporation found that there has been a five per cent improvement in the eco-efficiency of the U.S. beef industry between 2005 and 2011.

The report, More sustainable beef optimization project: Phase I, says that this correlates to a six per cent increase in cost, based on consumer retail price, and a seven per cent decrease in environmental impact, as represented by the environmental fingerprint analysis, over that same timeframe.

While environmental impacts stem from all phases of the beef value chain, the majority of the impacts are attributed to on-farm processes.

Likewise, many of the impact reductions have been made on-farm.

These reductions relate directly to improvements in on-farm efficiencies. For example, improvements in yield of feed crops and animal performance result in less system inputs being required per unit of land in order to achieve the same desired output of edible beef.

In general, it appears that the overall eco-efficiency of the beef value chain is improved, at least to a small extent, with the use of the distiller’s grains. Additionally, using distiller’s grains as a feed source provides a beneficial use of a by-product of bioethanol processing, thus providing additional environmental benefit outside of the beef value chain.

The processes associated with the post-farm phases, while generally contributing less overall

value-chain impacts, present significant opportunities for improvement, the report says.

Additionally, these opportunities generally may be more straightforward in terms of implementation with examples such as biogas capture and recovery at the harvesting facilities, packaging optimizations, and energy efficiency opportunities throughout.

The research team said that a sustainable beef industry is critically important as the globe works toward the goal of feeding more than 9 billion people by the year 2050.

Experts estimate that this future global population will require 70 per cent more food with fewer available resources.

The goals of the study were to benchmark the eco-efficiency of the US beef industry and to analyse the positive and negative trends associated with changes in practices over time.

This provides a starting point for ongoing analysis and a journey of continuous improvement within the industry. Any established trends will be used to set the US beef industry on a more sustainable pathway through various opportunities, which may include sharing and communicating best practices, embedding improvement opportunities throughout the industry, prioritizing solution-oriented research on sustainability criteria that are determined to be critical, and empowering the industry through ongoing education.

The Eco-Efficiency Analysis (EEA) submission is the first phase (Phase 1) of an ongoing study

of the US beef industry funded by the Beef Checkoff Program. Phase 1 is intended to provide specific on-farm data from the largest research farm in the US combined with post-farm data

that is representative of the entire US beef industry.

Phase 2 of the life cycle assessment will require additional on-farm data to be collected at a regional level to provide complete value chain data that is representative of the whole US beef industry.

beef sustainability report

September 2013

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