Local practices, downstream impactsRaising beef with outdated practices can damage soils, pollute rivers, and degrade downstream ecosystems (reefs and mangroves for example). Take the Great Barrier Reef catchment.
Seventy-five percent of that area is used for cattle ranching, and there is evidence that the intensity of the industry is increasing erosion, which results in reefs getting damaged. This further weakens these sensitive ecosystems, which are already under considerable stress from climate change.
A better way to raise cattleWe need to move to a new way of raising cattle that does not damage the environment. Already, some cattle farmers are showing that this is possible. For example, when properly managed, grazing can maintain the health of grasslands and support the diversity of species that grow there. Done the right way, this does not mean less income for farmers, but more. Beef production can also reduce poverty and contribute to vibrant communities.
We envision a world where all beef is raised in a way that is environmentally sustainable. To do this, we work with producers and buyers (retailers for example) to improve the sustainability of beef production. In 2010, we helped establish the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, which brings together the biggest players in the industry to improve the sustainability of the beef traded globally.
It's not just about how beef and animal protein more broadly is produced—we also need to think about how much we consume. In countries where people eat too much animal protein compared to their government’s advice for a healthy diet (Europe and North America for example), it's important that we reduce excessive consumption of meat and dairy products.
ProgressGlobal Roundtable for Sustainable Beef created in 2010
► Read more about WWF’s work on sustainable beef
Beef production isn’t going to decline. So we urgently need to improve how production takes places and how we use land.
CASE STUDY: Dealing with the effects of overgrazing
Supported by WWF-Brazil and Embrapa Beef Cattle (part of the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture), rancher Thimoteo Lobreiro is tackling soil erosion and make his business more sustainable.
At his farm in the Cerrado, Thimoteo grows microorganisms which, when sprayed on to fields, restore soil fertility. He also gives his grass a break and the chance to regenerate by regularly rotating cattle.
As a result, Thimoteo doesn’t have to spend so much on chemical fertilizer, weed killer, expensive seeds and cattle feed. So, while his productivity is higher, his costs are around 40% lower than on conventional ranches. His meat also tastes better.
And healthier soil means insects and birds are flourishing too.
- Habitat conversion;
- Overgrazing – decreased plant biodiversity, low residual plant cover and soil erosion;
- Greenhouse gas emissions;
- Water and air pollution; Impacts from feed production (grass versus grain-fed);
- Indigenous livelihoods tied to beef production.
- Reduced greenhouse gas emissions;
- Improved food safety and nutrition.
Be part of the solution
► Eat smart – if you buy beef, buy sustainably-produced beef and let your retailer know that you prefer sustainably-produced beef. This will help catalyse action, inform the process and contribute to the development and uptake of better production methods.