Beef is one of the most popular, yet unsustainable, sources of food around the globe. But that doesn’t mean you have to take it off your plate just yet – luckily, there are a few things we can do to reduce our impact on the planet.
Produced dangerously close to some of the most environmentally vulnerable regions in the world, from the Amazon rainforest in Brazil to our own Great Barrier Reef here in Australia, beef is a major resource drain and environmental threat. Runoff from cattle farms located around the Great Barrier Reef’s coastline heads directly into the world heritage area, further threatening the environment and sealife.
With our population slated to reach 8.6 billion by 2030, the demand for this unsustainable meat is only growing. Using around 2500 litres of water per megajoule of beef, along with land, feed and other generated wastage, beef production puts significant strain on our environment – and considering it contributes to 25% of land use and forestry emissions around the globe, this is no small issue. But there are a few things you can do to reduce your footprint.
Check for sustainable methods of production
Grazing is one element that improves the sustainability of beef production – as opposed to grain-fed, non-free range farming methods. It promotes good soil quality due to the manure, along with improving the health of the grass itself and helping preserve the habitat for other species. With intensive farming, these open spaces are often destroyed, meaning more emissions, more endangered species and more waste. So, be sure to do a little digging on your brand to see if their cattle engage in grazing.
Australian Beef Sustainability Network
Check that your beef producers' methods are aligned with the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework. Created in 2017, this framework outlines priorities for sustainability in Australia, along with promoting 12 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – it covers everything from reducing emissions to improving animal welfare in the beef industry.
The framework maintains 4 elements of sustainability:
Animal welfare: It’s important to do the research on your beef company’s treatment of animals – this is because improper treatment of animals leads to higher risks for disease, greater usage of antibiotics and, of course, pain for the animals themselves. The framework outlines guidelines on ensuring safe transport of animals, ethical animal husbandry methods and reducing biosecurity risks.
Economic resilience: The framework acknowledges the importance of turning a profit for businesses, and as such, economic sustainability holds significance as well.
Environmental stewardship: Your beef producer should also be meeting guidelines around the management of the land, maintaining adequate tree and grass coverage and reducing their climate change contributions.
The community: Beef producers should be providing safe, nutritious food, along with protecting the rights of their workers.
Asking the right questions
When you’re at the butcher, supermarket or a restaurant, there are a few questions to ask to ensure the beef you’re ordering is actually sustainable – and even if they assure you that it is, these questions will get the truth out.
- “Is this beef organic?” Organic production is important for reducing the damage caused by pesticides, antibiotics and intensive farming, along with having a lower effect on the surrounding environment. Check out this directory to assist your search for organic produce.
- “Is this meat free range?” Free range is not only important for reducing our carbon footprint, but for animal welfare too.
- “Which farm did this beef come from?” If you know the farm origin of the beef, you can double check online to see its practices and whether it aligns with sustainable guidelines.
- “What kind of feed was used in production?” Grass-fed beef is better than grain-fed when it comes to nutrition and the environment, as we mentioned the benefits of grazing above.
More sustainable alternatives
Looking for a cheaper, kinder alternative to beef? Some people are considering taking cows off their plates altogether, and if you’re one of them, then this is for you. Here are a few other foods to load up on that are better for the planet – and animal welfare, of course.
- Legumes like lentils, chickpeas and mung beans are all high in protein, iron and calcium.
- Mushrooms can work well in beef-centred dishes, due to their meaty texture. For instance, you can use oyster mushrooms in place of beef to make a hearty ragu.
- Tofu is a satisfying, high-protein food with a meaty texture that works well as a meat replacement for a variety of dishes. It soaks up the flavours its cooked in, making it a versatile option.
- Tempeh is a fermented form of soy, and is high in protein, iron and probiotics for gut health. Like tofu, it works well as a meat replacement in dishes, from stir fries to curries and bakes.
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