The sustainability and ‘carbon footprints’ of conventional and alternative beef production systems
The world’s population currently stands at over seven billion people and is predicted to surpass nine billion by 2050 (United Nations, 2011). Given the increased population, a 60% increase in food production is estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations to be required to fulfil global nutrient demands (FAO, 2013c). As the global population increases, disproportionate growth will be seen in low-to middleincome countries in conjunction with an increase in average income. A positive correlation exists between per capita income and demand for milk, meat and eggs (Delgado, 2003); thus increases in the average income of inhabitants of China, India and Africa over the next 40 years will result in considerable increases in animal-source food consumption (FAO, 2009; Masuda and Goldsmith, 2010) and livestock production will have to substantially increase to fulfil global demand. Indeed, the FAO (2013c) estimates a 1.1% per annum (p.a.) increase in global milk and 1.2% p.a. increase in meat production (including a 1.3% p.a. increase in bovine meat production) to supply global food demand by 2050. The projected population gains will confer increased competition for resources (land, water, energy) between agriculture and other uses; therefore, the need to ‘produce more,
using less’ (one of the most simple definitions of sustainability) will become increasingly important. This chapter will review the environmental sustainability of beef production in the United States and discuss a range of measures to enhance the sustainability of current and future beef systems.