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Nat Ecol Evol. 2018 Jan;2(1):81-85. doi: 10.1038/s41559-017-0390-5. Epub 2017 Dec 4.

A model for 'sustainable' US beef production.

Author information

1
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, 10 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA, 02138, USA. geshel@gmail.com.
2
Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, 12504-5000, USA. geshel@gmail.com.
3
Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Weizmann Institute of Science, 76100, Rehovot, Israel.
4
Brown University Undergraduate College, Providence, RI, 02912, USA.
5
School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, New York, NY, 10027, USA.
6
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, NY, 10964-1000, USA.
7
Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Weizmann Institute of Science, 76100, Rehovot, Israel. ron.milo@weizmann.ac.il.

Abstract

Food production dominates land, water and fertilizer use and is a greenhouse gas source. In the United States, beef production is the main agricultural resource user overall, as well as per kcal or g of protein. Here, we offer a possible, non-unique, definition of 'sustainable' beef as that subsisting exclusively on grass and by-products, and quantify its expected US production as a function of pastureland use. Assuming today's pastureland characteristics, all of the pastureland that US beef currently use can sustainably deliver ≈45% of current production. Rewilding this pastureland's less productive half (≈135 million ha) can still deliver ≈43% of current beef production. In all considered scenarios, the ≈32 million ha of high-quality cropland that beef currently use are reallocated for plant-based food production. These plant items deliver 2- to 20-fold more calories and protein than the replaced beef and increase the delivery of protective nutrients, but deliver no B12. Increased deployment of rapid rotational grazing or grassland multi-purposing may increase beef production capacity.

PMID:
29203916
DOI:
10.1038/s41559-017-0390-5
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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