Outdated UN Report Still Overshadows Animal Agriculture

UN's 2006 report on global animal agriculture's environmental impact still gives anti-animal ag activists ammo despite U.S. industry's progress.

Published on: Jan 23, 2014

* "This group of consumers is probably ready to use its growing voice to exert pressure for change and may be willing to absorb the inevitable price increases."

* "Development of markets for organic products and other forms of eco-labeling are precursors of this trend, as are the tendency towards vegetarianism within developed countries and the trend towards healthier diets."

Recent announcements of major beef purchasers – McDonalds and Walmart – confirm that they believe it's in their best interest to cater to consumers who are increasingly asking for "eco-labeled" products.

Redeeming beef industry study

Recognizing the need to assess "sustainability", the National Cattlemen's Beef Association initiated a three-year "Sustainability Lifecycle Assessment" study. It's important to know where you are before you can know where you need to go.

While far from complete, preliminary results show that the beef industry has improved sustainability an overall 5% over a six-year period. Comparing 2011 to 2005, the industry has:

* Decreased emissions to soil by 7%

* Decreased greenhouse gas emissions by 2%

* Decreased emissions to water by 10%

* Decreased water use by 3%

* Decreased land use by 4%

* Decreased resource consumption and energy use by 2%

Critics will immediately cry "biased" and "self-serving" since the study was conducted with beef check-off dollars. Anticipating such criticism, NCBA submitted the study to the National Standards Foundation, the largest accredited, third-party certifier of research results. NSF certified that the results met national conformity standards and were valid.

Harpster is a Centre County, Pa., beef producer and retired Penn State University animal scientist.