“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?