Local practices, downstream impacts
Raising beef with poor 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 being 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 raise cattle in a way that minimises our impact to the environment. Many 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 well, 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, socially and economically sustainable. To do this, we work with input suppliers, producers and buyers (processors and retailers for example) to improve the sustainability of beef production. In 2010, we helped establish the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, which brings together more than 70 of the biggest players and specialists in the industry together with civil society represented by NGOs like WWF.
The goal is to define sustainable beef so that countries, regions, and even specific groups can develop their programs based on their localized needs to improve the sustainability of their beef production. And many have already started on that journey, such as the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.
But it's not just about how beef, and animal protein more broadly, are produced - we also need to think about how much we waste.
It’s estimated that 40% of all the food produced in the world is wasted and with beef it is no different.
We are working with members of the beef supply chain and the wider community to find ways to reduce waste and over consumption of animal protein to levels recommended by health authorities and nutritional experts.
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.