Global Warming and Pasture-Raised Beef Production in the United States

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Summary: Agriculture emits all three major greenhouse gases— methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide—but the latter is a small part of the total in the United States and is not considered in this report. This report evaluates the prospects for changing management practices to reduce the climate impact of the time beef cattle spend on pasture or rangeland. Improved practices are most readily applied to the finishing stage of fully pasture-raised systems—a growing alternative to CAFOs, given research showing that pasture finishing has nutritional and environmental benefits. In the long term, the use of climate-friendly best practices in the United States may lead to substantial cuts in global warming emissions if adopted in countries where beef production accounts for a greater share of those emissions. Well-managed pasture soils sequester carbon. Using soil to sequester carbon can reduce the climate change impact of beef production. High rates of carbon sequestration may continue for 40 years or more (Conant, Paustian, and Elliott 2001). Sequestering organic carbon in soil provides other important benefits beyond mitigating climate change. Organic carbon aerates soil; boosts root growth, water flow, and water retention; and purifies water before it flows into groundwater.

Gurian-Sherman, Doug. 2011. Raising the Steaks. Global Warming and Pasture-Raised Beef Production in the United States. Union of Concerned Scientists.