Beef Sustainability

America’s beef producers have been leaders in the area of sustainability. The Beef Sustainability Research program is proof of their commitment to producing responsibly raised beef to consumers across the globe. This checkoff-funded program includes the assessment of sustainability using an approach that balances environmental responsibility, economic opportunity, and social diligence across the beef value chain. Research is conducted to provide the industry with science-validated sustainability indicators that serve as a benchmark of current status of the industry and provide a path forward of continuous improvement. The research encompasses the entirety of the beef industry from birth of the calf to the consumer, and the sustainability assessment marks the first and largest research project of its kind. The program is a proactive and innovative scientific approach to creating a sustainable beef product for a growing world population while gaining consumer confidence in beef.

Specific objectives include: 

  • Maintain consumer confidence in beef as a sustainable food 
  • Conduct research to benchmark and improve the sustainability of beef 
  • Serve as an industry resource for current, science-based, beef sustainability information

Quick Access

Fact Sheet Series "Tough Questions about Beef Sustainability"
The intent of this fact sheet series is to provide high-level answers to some of the more challenging and complex issues related to beef sustainability. To provide further understanding, Animated Infographics have been created to briefly illustrate many of the key points related to the sustainability questions addressed in the Fact Sheets below.

To view the Fact Sheets, click the icon.

To view the Animated Infographics, click the icon.

Question 1: How does the carbon footprint of U.S. beef compare to global beef?

Question 2: Does beef really use that much water?

Question 3: Would removing beef from the diet actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Question 4: How does carbon sequestration affect the sustainability of beef?

Question 5: Do growth promotants reduce environmental impact?

Question 6: Does grass-finished beef leave a lower carbon footprint than grain-finished?

Question 7: If we fed corn to humans instead of cattle, would land use be more sustainable?

Question 8: Is local beef more sustainable?

Question 9: Can different Life Cycle Assessment studies be compared?

Question 10: How do you know if you are looking at a comprehensive and high-quality life cycle assessment study?

Question 11: How does animal health and welfare impact sustainability?

Question 12: Do feedlots have the largest greenhouse gas impact in the beef value chain?

Question 13: How does food waste impact sustainability?

Question 14: Are residues of the growth hormones used in cattle in our drinking water?

Question 15: Why is sustainability so difficult to define?

Question 16: Ecosystem Services — What are they and how do they relate to beef production?

Question 17: What are enteric methane emissions?

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Question 18: How does beef fit into a sustainable food system?

Beef Sustainability in the News

A four-part series on sustainability in Beef Today describes some of the initiatives by stakeholders, from ranchers to retailers, that document and highlight the beef sustainability story.

The articles, along with a brief editorial are available for download below: 

Peer-reviewed Journal of Animal Science Article
In early 2013, the initial benchmark research was certified by NSF International, the largest accredited, third-party body that certifies products to verify they align with national conformity standards by which to measure a product’s sustainability.

The study was published in the Journal of Animal Science in November, 2013. For the full text of the article go to A simulation-based approach for evaluating and comparing the environmental footprints of beef production systems.

Sustainability Executive Summary

The beef industry is the first food system to benchmark it current status relative to sustainability and develop a roadmap toward improvement that encompasses all three aspects of sustainability: social, environmental, and economic. This checkoff-funded research included an evaluation of thousands of data points to quantify the industry's progress since 2005.  The Sustainability Executive Summary provides a snapshot of the research results.

Download the PDF 

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Browse the Beef Sustainability Library

Use the filter tool to find a variety of checkoff-funded resources on topics related to beef sustainability and the beef industry's life cycle assessment.

Additional Resources 

View videos on how beef producers from different regions of the country (Nebraska, Florida, Arizona, and Minnesota) manage their operations day-to-day to be sustainable.

Sustainability Life Cycle Assessment - Phase 2

The goals of this checkoff-funded study were to expand the original (phase 1) beef industry sustainability assessment to more accurately benchmark the eco-efficiency of the U.S. beef industry as part of an ongoing study of the U.S. beef industry. Phase 1 established a historical perspective of the eco-efficiency of the U.S. beef industry and considered specific on-farm data from the largest research farm in the U.S. combined with post-farm data that is representative of the entire U.S. beef industry. Phase 2 built upon the Phase 1 base case study for the year 2011 and includes refined data, additional datasets, and an expanded focus of the beef value chain, particularly in the case-ready, retail and restaurant sectors, for data that is representative of the period between 2011 and 2013. 

The U.S. Beef Industry Sustainability Assessment: Phase 1 versus Phase 2 - Topic Brief

This Topic Brief provides an overview of the major specific changes or additions to the Phase 1 base case study that are reflected in the Phase 2 study.