/ ©: Adriano Gambarini / WWF-Brazil

Sustainable Beef

Cattle is raised in some of the most fragile natural areas on Earth, such as the Amazon, East Australia, the Cerrado, and the Northern Great Plains. In those places, beef production can have serious impacts on ecosystems. With demand for beef set to rise, the question is how to satisfy growing demand with beef produced in a sustainable way.

Local practices, downstream impacts

Raising beef with outdated practices can damage soils, pollute rivers, and degrade downstream ecosystems (reefs and mangroves for example).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 cattle

We 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. 

Our approach

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.

 

WWF Targets

2020: 10% of global beef production is certified sustainable

Progress

Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef created in 2010

► Read more about WWF’s work on sustainable beef
How can we move production to more sustainable practices? Find out about WWF's Market Transformation Initiative ►

Better Production for a Living Planet

 / ©: WWF

Beef production isn’t going to decline. So we urgently need to improve how production takes places and how we use land.

Ruaraidh Petre, Regional Director at Solidaridad Southern Africa / Chair, Global Roundtable on Sustainable Beef

Find out about other commodities we work on

CASE STUDY: Dealing with the effects of overgrazing

 / ©: WWF
Beef
© WWF
In Brazil, raising cattle is the single biggest threat to the Amazon rainforest.

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.
 

READ FULL CASE STUDY

CONTEXT

Threats
  • 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.
Opportunities
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Conservation;
  • Improved food safety and nutrition.

Be part of the solution

► Companies, financial sector leaders, policy makers and NGOs are already working with WWF to make beef production better. Join them in the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, and do your part

► 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.

Priority Countries

  • Production
    USA, Brazil, EU, China, Australia, India

    Markets
    USA, Russia, Japan, EU

    Present Focal Regions
    Amazon, Cerrado, Chaco region of Paraguay and Argentina

Trends

  • Demand Drivers
    Income, population, consumption

    Future focus for success
    Continued work in Brazil, Australia and the USA – major producing countries – are of particular importance. India, which is projected to be the largest exporter of beef in 2012, and China, due to its increasing production and consumption of beef, are also important.

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