Grass-Fed Beef Is Not Sustainable, New Research Confirms
Freelance Journalist and Environmental Research Intern | Bristol, UK | Contactable via

Not eating beef at all is far better for the planet than opting for grass-fed beef, suggests new research.

The research, led by Matthew Hayek of the Harvard Animal Law and Public Policy Program and Rachel Garrett of Boston University’s Department of Earth and Environment, was published in the recent issue of the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The paper explains that in the US, there is a “growing interest in producing more beef from cattle raised in exclusively pasture-based systems, rather than grain-finishing feedlot systems, due to the perception that it is more environmentally sustainable.”

advertisement - about this ad

However, this may not be the case.

The report says: “In order to produce the same quantity of beef as the present-day system, we find that a nationwide shift to exclusively grass-fed beef would require increasing the national cattle herd from 77 to 100 million cattle, an increase of 30%. We also find that the current pastureland grass resource can support only 27% of the current beef supply (27 million cattle), an amount 30% smaller than prior estimates.”

The authors go on to clarify that “Future US demand in an entirely grass-and forage-raised beef scenario can only be met domestically if beef consumption is reduced.”

According to the researchers, if consumption of beef is not minimized and instead is satisfied by greater imports of grass-fed beef” then a move to a purely grass-fed system would actually produce higher environmental costs, including an increase in methane emissions.

The paper concludes: “Given the environmental tradeoffs associated with raising more cattle in exclusively grass-fed systems, only reductions in beef consumption can guarantee reductions in the environmental impact of US food systems.”

This study adds to a body of research suggesting that animal agriculture is destroying our planet.

Animal agriculture is responsible for a minimum of 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions —  more than the combined exhaust from all global transportation. A new study has also demonstrated that if all of the world ate as much meat as the US, we would need five planets to keep it up. Compassion in World Farming has also asked people to “make history” and save the planet by eating a plant-based diet – and not beef, grass-fed or otherwise.