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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #338765

Title: Environmental sustainability of beef

item Rotz, Clarence - Al
item Asem-Hiablie, Senorpe
item BATTAGLIESE, TOM - Basf Corporation North America
item STACKHOUSE-LAWSON, KIM - National Cattlemen'S Beef Association (NCBA)

Submitted to: Waste to Worth Conference
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/12/2017
Publication Date: 4/17/2017
Citation: Rotz, C.A., Asem-Hiablie, S., Battagliese, T., Stackhouse-Lawson, K. 2017. Environmental sustainability of beef. Waste to Worth Conference,April 17-21,2017,Raleigh, North Carolina.Available at: 12,2017.

Interpretive Summary: No Interpretive Summary is required. JLB.

Technical Abstract: A national assessment of the sustainability of beef is being conducted in collaboration with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association through the support of the Beef Checkoff. This includes surveys and visits to cattle operations throughout the U.S. to gather production information. With this information, representative production systems are being modeled and evaluated through a cradle-to-farm gate life cycle assessment(LCA). So far, the environmental impacts of representative production systems have been evaluated for 5 of 7 geographic regions including the Southern Plains, Northern Plains, Midwest, Northwest and Southwest. To complete the full LCA, post-farm gate data were obtained from harvesting and case-ready facilities, retailers, and restaurants while consumer data were obtained from literature and public databases. These data were combined to quantify sustainability through a full cradle–to–grave life cycle assessment. The environmental impacts of cattle production systems vary widely, with more variation within regions than among regions. For individual production systems, total greenhouse gas emissions (carbon footprint) range from 17 to 36 kg CO2e/kg carcass weight (CW) with regional means around 20 kg CO2e/kg CW. Regional values for fossil energy use, non-precipitation water use and reactive nitrogen loss are 40-50 MJ/kg CW, 400-6500 l/kg CW and 120-180 g N/kg CW, respectively. To assess the full life cycle of beef, the BASF eco-efficiency analysis methodology is used with the functional unit or consumer benefit being 0.45 kg (1 lb) of consumed boneless edible beef. The full life cycle carbon footprint of beef is 43-50 kg CO2e/kg of consumed beef with about 85% of this footprint related to cattle production, 10% related to the consumer and less than 5% related to processing, packaging, transport and retail. Other impact metrics include water emissions, cumulative energy demand, land use, acidification potential, photochemical ozone creation potential, ozone depletion potential, abiotic depletion potential, consumptive water use, and solid waste disposal. An initial assessment indicates that feed and cattle production phases are the largest contributors to most of these environmental impact categories. Eco-efficiency improvements are being made in cattle production through increased crop yields and more efficient use of resource inputs such as fertilizer and feed. Beneficial improvements among processors include increased use of natural gas in lieu of fuel oil, biogas capture and use from wastewater lagoons at harvesting plants, packaging optimizations, and improvements in water use efficiency. This LCA is the first of its kind for beef and has been third party verified in accordance with ISO 14040:2006 and 14044:2006 and 14045:2012 standards.