Should beef carry an ‘environmental impact’ label?

Researchers say there’s plenty the beef industry can do to use less land and water and emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions. But producers may need to charge a premium to make those changes. iStockphoto.com

“If you’ve got decisions to make at the meat counter (or at a burger joint) and want to do right by the environment, you have a couple of options,” writes NPR’s Eliza Barclay.

“You could skip the beef entirely, which is what some environmental groups say you should do. Or you could go for meat with a ‘grass-fed’ or ‘organic’ label.

“But a handful of researchers allied with the meat industry say that that those labels don’t actually tell you much about how a producer is raising animals, nor are they really representative of the best environmental practices in the industry.”

Jude Capper, an animal sciences researcher-turned-consultant, has written that “niche production systems” like grass-fed or organic aren’t nearly as efficient as conventional, intensive systems. She says that’s mainly because conventional producers now know how to get more meat out of fewer cows, which ultimately means using less water and land per pound of meat than smaller, niche producers.

That’s a controversial point of view, of course. A lot of environmental (and animal welfare) advocates have railed against industrial beef production as dirty, resource-intensive and inhumane. It’s a huge industry, and even if it’s a lot more efficient than it used to be, its impact on the planet is still massive. Livestock producers have also lately been accused of ignoring pleas to better manage their waste and curb antibiotic use.

But since the beef industry isn’t going to vaporize any time soon — the U.S. produced 26 billion pounds of beef in 2013 alone — there’s a growing movement around the idea of “sustainable” industrial beef. [Read more]

Today’s Question: Should beef carry an ‘environmental impact’ label?

  • Jamie

    No. The whole premise is ridiculous. Corn ethanol should require an environmental impact label.

  • Gary F

    Only if your electric bill says “Energy produced by windmills causes deaths of migratory birds”.

    And what Jamie said.

    • Howard

      You really are a lot about migratory birds Gary. You bring it up every chance you get. Sounds like the vikings stadium if thought by many to be a migratory bird killer too. Are you also against that based on that principle?

      Oh and yes to answer the question, I think EVERYTHING should have an environmental impact label. Then maybe it wouldn’t be so easy for people to live in denial on how their choices are affecting the planet.

      • Jamie

        Yeah, that sounds realistic.

        How much time do you think it would take to make an accurate environmental impact statement about your checking account? Where did the bank source their office chairs? Are they made from wood grown in the rain forest? What about their computers and paper? Was that a free range stapler?

        And how many government workers would be required to check the validity of these statements? And how would they be enforced?

        What if we just used a little sense?

        **No trees were killed in the creation of this post. However, a large number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.

      • Gary F

        I think of migratory birds, it’s duck hunting season.

        It’s just a coincidence that topic could be used twice in a day.

        Better put that warning on the cream in your coffee this morning too.

    • David P.

      I agree. All sources of energy carry an environmental impact. All sources of energy should carry an environmental impact statement for the consumers’ to consider. Perhaps a “Green” version of the familiar yellow Energy Guide label found on appliances or MPG guide found on cars.