5 Surprising Facts about the Sustainability of Beef and Dairy

April 8, 2022

Earth Day is an annual opportunity to think about what each of us can do to help our planet. To those engaged in food and agriculture, environmental stewardship is a daily commitment. It’s also one of the three priority elements of sustainability, which also includes economic vitality and ethical practices.

Sustainability is essential to all we do at Nicholas Meat, as we focus on protecting the earth’s natural resources while producing healthy, nutritious beef. Long-term success for our employees, our customers, our community, and our livelihood depends on sustainable practices.

As you consider the best choices to care for the earth, you will be interested to learn about the sustainability of beef and dairy. Here are five surprising facts about cattle in the United States that you might not know.

1. Beef and dairy cattle generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions than other sources.

Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from beef cattle represent just 2% of all emissions in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Dairy accounts for about 2% of GHG.

In comparison, transportation accounts for 29% of GHG emissions and electricity for 25%.

2. Cows can upcycle.

About 90% of what cattle eat can’t be digested by humans, making them invaluable to a sustainable food system. Cattle have a specialized digestive system that enables them to convert plants humans can’t eat into high-quality protein we can enjoy. Beef and dairy products are nutrient-rich foods that provide important vitamins and minerals in our diet. For example, beef is one of the most complete dietary sources of protein and it’s also very rich in zinc, B-12 and iron.

Approximately 29% of the land in the United States is too rocky or steep to grow crops, but cattle can graze these areas without disturbing the soil – and give us protein in exchange.

3. The environmental footprint of milk and beef production is shrinking.

The environmental footprint of milk production got significantly smaller between 2007 and 2017. A study found that dairies used 30% less water, 21% less land and left a 19% percent smaller carbon footprint while producing 20% less manure.

Between 1961 and 2018, the U.S. beef industry,through continued sustainability efforts and improved resource use, has reduced emissions per pound of beef produced by more than 40% while also producing more than 66% more beef per animal.

4. U.S. beef farms excel at producing more using less.

The United States produces 18% of the world’s beef with only 6% of the world’s cattle. Scientific advancements in beef cattle genetics, nutrition, and production practices have helped farms to produce more food using fewer natural resources.

5. There’s a major difference between GHG emissions from cattle and vehicles.

The methane belched from cattle is not adding new carbon to the atmosphere. Rather, it is part of the natural cycling of carbon through the biogenic carbon cycle. The methane from cattle stays in the atmosphere for approximately 9-12 years before being recycled back into the ground, whereas carbon emitted from fossil fuels stays in the atmosphere permanently.

Earth Day – or any day! – is a good time to enjoy beef and dairy as sustainable food choices.