American Beef Industry is Now More Eco-Friendly

By: Justin Chan

The American beef industry has had a history of disproving misperceived notions, and it seems as if it will continue to do so. While much of the focus has been on beef's connection to heart disease and cancer, NPR reported that a new study conducted by Jude Capper, an assistant professor of dairy science at Washington State University, revealed that the production of beef has been more eco-friendly than ever.

The study comes at a time when some are wondering whether this planet will be able to support a growing population. In her study, Capper pointed out that cattlemen now use 12 percent less water, 19 percent less feed, 33 percent less land and 9 percent less fossil fuel energy. "[The industry] knows far better how to care for, feed and manage cattle," she said.

Despite its positive outlook, the report has come under criticism from some of Capper's peers. While several environmentalists agree that beef production is now more effective, there are questions concerning other methods that are used in the process. Antibiotics are being increasingly used to treat cows that are forced to rely on a diet that consists of simply corn. This, in turn, has a harmful effect on people who consume such kind of tainted beef, said Chuck Benbrook, chief scientist at The Organic Center.

Some critics insist that beef production is still inefficient compared to other kinds of meat production. Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that Capper's study fails to address the aftereffects of beef production. "Feedlots often put way too much manure on nearby crops - more than can be absorbed - and it goes through into the groundwater or runs into streams," he said. Capper, whose study was partly funded by the beef industry, said that it is difficult to check the effects of cattle manure on groundwater. Still, she said, farms now release less phosphorus and nitrogen.

The Environmental Protection Agency is already working on a proposal that would further regulate water usage in animal feeding operations. The new rules would require such operations to provide detailed water quality data that would help the agency determine whether the operations are adhering to standard procedures. As the agency, factories and farms become more aware of their responsibilities to the environment, consumers are now looking for "greener" ways to eat meat products like beef.

Photo: Rennett Stowe

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