Organic Beef or Green Beef?

Laura McNamara

Center For Global Food IssuesA new Beef Eco-Report suggests that “green” food isn´t necessarily organic food and conscious consumers might have to start choosing between the two. Analysts at the Hudson Institute‘s Center for Global Food Issues say that beef produced with grains and growth hormones produces 40 percent less greenhouse gas emissions and saves two-thirds more land for nature as compared to organic grass-fed beef.

To reach these startling conclusions, analysts at the Hudson Institutes´s Center for Global Food Issues used beef production models from Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and greenhouse gas emissions estimates from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC).

More than 95% of beef produced in the United States is raised on grain-based diets in feedlots, using supplemental growth hormones, both natural and synthetic. The report details the extensive human and environmental safety requirements for the use of supplemental hormones on feedlots, as well as the growing body of environmental monitoring studies showing no significant negative impacts from their use. Instead, the data show major environmental benefits of this production system: Saving 2/3 more land for nature and producing 40% fewer greenhouse gas emissions per pound of beef produced.

The use of supplemental hormones in beef production has been deemed safe for humans by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Health Canada, the World Health Organization, the Codex Alimentarius Committee of the World Trade Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and a conference of expert toxicologists established by the European Agriculture Commission.

The first-of-its-kind analysis compared the land costs and greenhouse gas emissions of organic grass-based beef with conventional grain-finished beef. The findings are particularly relevant in light of a UN Food and Agriculture Organization report published last summer estimating that beef and dairy production are responsible for 18% of all human greenhouse gas emissions.

“Environmentally conscious consumers who have been told that grass-raised beef is more environmentally sensitive and sustainable should rethink their beef purchases in light of our findings,” says lead author Alex Avery, director of research at the Center and author of The Truth About Organic Foods.

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