Beef production is a major threat to natural ecosystems globally, as areas of forests are converted to pastures. Natural grasslands are often also converted to more productive, introduced pastures resulting in the loss of biodiversity in these key ecosystems.
Livestock farming is one of the main contributors to soil erosion around the world. Turning forests into pasture and overgrazing, or using marginal lands to grow feed, can lead to extreme loss of topsoil and organic matter that may take decades or centuries to replace.
In addition to the conversion of carbon-sequestering landscapes, beef cattle create methane, a potent Greenhouse Gas, as they digest grass. This methane has a significant impact on our changing climate.
Beef production also requires a significant amount of water, most of which is used to grow feed for cattle. Meanwhile, disposal of cattle production waste without proper treatment leads to the pollution of water resources. Sediment resulting from poor grazing management contaminates surface water and groundwater.
Many people in middle-income and developed countries, and wealthier people in developing countries, typically consume more meat and other animal proteins than are required for nutrition alone, with adverse impacts on both human and planetary health.
Ranchers and beef cattle producers manage large swathes of our natural grasslands and savannahs globally. This management is key to the survival of these threatened ecosystems, the animals that live there and the services provided to our climate, water and people. Beef is, however, a major driver of ecosystem conversion through deforestation and grassland degradation. Beef production that supports natural ecosystems rather than threatens them can support sustainable development and provide sustainable protein.
There are many ways beef production—when sustainably managed—can achieve conservation benefits. Grazing maintains the health of grasslands, improves soil quality with manure, and preserves open space and wildlife habitat. Additionally, carbon is sequestered in the grasses and soils of grazing lands. Beef production also provides social benefits by sustaining livelihoods and community vibrancy in rural areas where grasslands dominate.
In instances where more beef is consumed than required for nutritional needs, we believe reduction should come from removing unsustainably-produced beef from supply chains. This reduction in supply would reduce consumption, though meat which is produced sustainably can be maintained in diets where desired.
A growing number of farmers and ranchers around the world are proving that we can produce enough food for everyone on the planet while protecting its natural resources. WWF is proud to work with many of them. By working with producers as well as companies and their supply chains to improve the sustainability of beef production, WWF is helping ensure that consumers have choices for a safe, affordable and sustainable diet.
OUR FOOD SYSTEM IS PUSHING NATURE TO THE BRINK: HERE'S WHAT WE NEED TO DOIn-depth article on the changes needed to keep the food system within planetary boundaries, but highlighting that a change in diet does not require stopping eating meat (or any other food), as well as the positive role sustainable meat plays in nutrition, nature and livelihoods.
THE WORDS OF RURAL AMERICA - WE ARE HEREAn article exploring life in the Northern Great Plains, highlighting the co-dependency of grasslands and grazers, and the ecosystems services ranchers help preserve.
THE CLIMATE CHANGE SOLUTION UNDER OUR NOSESOpinion piece on how those closest to the land, including ranchers, farmers and indigenous people, can use production methods to limit the impacts of climate change.
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