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Deforestation-based production contributes to far greater emissions

The global beef industry has recently faced mounting criticism due to the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint associated with cattle production,18,19,20 which is much larger than other forms of livestock, and amounts to about 9% of total global GHG emissions.21 There are a wide range of emissions sources associated with cattle, including enteric fermentation (a large source of methane emissions from digestive processes), feed production for use in concentrated feedlots, and land use change, such as deforestation.

Beef produced on recently deforested land can result in up to 25 times more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than beef produced on established pastures

Cattle has become one of the largest drivers of deforestation in Brazil, accounting for up to 80% of all emissions from land use change (see citation). All cattle production systems produce emissions, but where forests are cleared for pasture, the emissions are even larger.21-2 Cattle produced on recently deforested land in the Brazilian Amazon can have a GHG footprint that is up to 25 times higher than cattle produced on established pasture (28 versus 726 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of meat, respectively).22 Therefore, one of the most effective ways to reduce the GHG footprint of beef, leather, tallow and other cattle-derived products is to ensure that cattle are produced under a fully verified zero deforestation system.

In addition, support for ranching practices that improve productivity on established pastures can help decrease emissions per animal. Moderate intensification, which includes relatively low-tech and cost effective practices, such as fencing, rotational grazing, and improved grass mixtures can help improve productivity and recover degraded pastures.23 Therefore, the cattle sector can continue to meet growing demand for beef, leather, tallow, and other cattle-derived products without further deforestation. This outcome can be achieved while improving the profitability of the ranching sector and reducing GHG emissions on a per unit basis.

18. Eshel, G., et al. 2014. Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States. PNAS, Vol. 111, No. 3.
19. Caro, D., et al. 2014. Global and regional trends in greenhouse gas emissions from livestock. Climatic Change, Vol. 126, Issue 1-2, 203-216.
20. Herrero, M., et al. 2013. Biomass use, production, feed efficiencies, and greenhouse gas emissions from global livestock systems. PNAS, Vol. 110, No. 52.
21. Gerber, P.J., et al. 2013. Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome.
Bowman, M. S., Soares-Filho, B. S., Merry, F. D., Nepstad, D. C., Rodrigues, H., & Almeida, O. T. (2012). Persistence of cattle ranching in the Brazilian Amazon: A spatial analysis of the rationale for beef production. Land Use Policy, 29(3), 558-568.
22. Cederberg, C., et al. 2011. Including Carbon Emissions from Deforestation in the Carbon Footprint of Brazilian Beef. Environmental Science and Technology, 45(5), 1773-1779.
23. Hall, Simon; Sarsfield, Ryan; and Walker, Nathalie (2015). GRSB-GTPS Joint Working Group on Forests (JWG) Workshop Report: Investing in Smart Production. National Wildlife Federation.