Grass-fed beef better for environment, says report

The UK has one of the most environmentally sustainable beef rearing systems in the world, according to a new report from the National Trust.

Previous research has suggested that intensive, grain-fed cattle systems, such as US feedlots, are more carbon efficient because cattle fed on grain produce less methane. However, this new study revealed that when the carbon sequestration of grassland was incoporated, grass-fed beef emissions were reduced by up to 94%, meaning grass fed bef has lower net carbon emissions than beef from US feedlots.

UK grass-fed beef was also shown to have lower emissions than extensive, pasture-reared Brazilian beef when carbon sequestration was taken into account. This is because most Brazilian beef is reared in cleared areas of the Brazilian Cerrado, a woodland savannah which stores huge amounts of carbon.

“Brazilian beef – a significant UK catering import – relies heavily on production from the Cerrado wooded savannah region,” said the report.

“When carbon release calculated for clearance of the Cerrado for farming is included, the apparently carbon-efficient extensive production from this region looks like one of the most environmentally damaging systems imaginable.”

The National Trust is arguing that the report shows that intensification is not necessarily the most environmentally sustainable answer to beef production. “The results are contrary to recent thinking that livestock farming methods must intensify further in order to lessen carbon emissions to feed an ever-increasing world population,” said Rob Macklin, National Agriculture and Food adviser at the National Trust.

Macklin added that the findings of the report also showed that beef production is the best land use for the UK’s grassland areas.

“The debate about climate change and food often calls for a reduction of meat consumption and a more plant based diet, but this often overlooks the fact that many grasslands are unsuitable for continuous arable cropping,” he said.
“Grasslands support a range of ecosystems services including water resources, biodiversity and carbon capture and storage.  Grazing livestock not only contributes to their maintenance but also turns grass into human-edible food.”   


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