hillary makens| january 16, 2019
Recent reports question beef’s role in a healthy, sustainable diet. Beef is healthier and more sustainable today than at any point in time. History and well-established research have consistently shown that practical, balanced dietary patterns grounded in science promote health and sustainability, not eliminating single foods, like beef.1,2
Research recently conducted by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and The Beef Checkoff, and published in the journal Agricultural Systems, found that data commonly used to depict beef cattle’s environmental impact in the U.S. is often overestimated. The study, which is the most comprehensive beef lifecycle assessment to-date, evaluated greenhouse gas emissions, feed consumption, water use and fossil fuel inputs. In all these areas, beef’s environmental impacts were found to be less than previously reported.4 Specifically, the report found:
Not only does this data demonstrate that cattle’s environmental impact is less than often reported, thanks to cattle’s unique digestive system they can actually help mitigate food waste.5
"Cattle are natural upcyclers, which means most of what cattle eat can’t be consumed by humans and would otherwise end up in the landfill,” explained Sara Place, Ph.D., Senior Director of Sustainable Beef Production Research for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff. “At the end of the day, cattle generate more protein for the human food supply than would exist without them because their unique digestive system allows them to convert human-inedible plants into high-quality protein.”6
It’s also important to note that beef continues to become more sustainable in the U.S. thanks to innovation and production efficiencies. In the U.S. today, the same amount of beef is produced with one-third fewer cattle as compared to the mid-1970s, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. If the rest of the world were as efficient as the U.S., global beef production could double while cutting the global cattle herd by 25 percent.7
A 3-ounce serving of lean beef provides 10 essential nutrients in about 170 calories, including high-quality protein, zinc, iron and B vitamins. No other protein source offers the same nutrient mix. xiii Furthermore any one of the nearly 40 cuts of beef considered lean can be included as part of a heart-healthy diet to support cardiovascular health, according to recent research from Purdue University. Additionally, research has consistently demonstrated that the nutrients in beef promote health throughout life.11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 In particular, the protein, iron, zinc and B-vitamins in beef help ensure young children start life strong, building healthy bodies and brains.11, 12, 13, 14 Protein is also especially important in aging populations due to its ability to help build and maintain muscle. After 50 years of age, adults are at risk for losing muscle mass, leading to falls and frailty that affect their ability to age independently.15, 16, 17
“Research shows that beef can play an important role in promoting health and helping to prevent nutrient deficiencies,” said Shalene McNeill, Ph.D., R.D., Executive Director of Human Nutrition Research at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff. “Most people already consume beef within established, science-based global dietary guidelines,ix so there is no reason to systematically reduce beef consumption.”
About the Beef Checkoff
The Beef Checkoff Program was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. The checkoff assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. States may retain up to 50 cents on the dollar and forward the other 50 cents per head to the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board, which administers the national checkoff program, subject to USDA approval.
About NCBA, a Contractor to the Beef Checkoff
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program. The Beef Checkoff Program is administered by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, with oversight provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.