Sustainable: able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed; involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources; able to last or continue for a long time.
K-State Research and ExtensionJude Capper, a researcher whose work focuses on the effects of the dairy and beef industries on the environment, recently spoke at Kansas State University as part of the Upson Lecture Series hosted by K-State’s Food for Thought student organization. Capper’s presentation was titled, “Is Your Hamburger Killing the Planet? That’s how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines sustainable, and I am willing to place a bet that many of you have your own ways to define a term that is being widely discussed throughout the entire agricultural industry, including the cattle sector, and was the subject of a recent Upson Lecture Series event on the campus of Kansas State University.
Livestock sustainability consultant Jude Capper was on K-State’s campus to discuss her research efforts focused on beef sustainability and about the importance of the beef industry engaging in a conversation with consumers about modern beef production practices.
Capper’s research compared the environmental profile of the U.S. beef industry in 2007 to production practices in 1977. Her research revealed that improvements in nutrition, management and use of technologies have improved the industry’s sustainability.
“The conventional industry has been sustainable and will continue to be sustainable, because we know now far better how to treat our cattle, how to feed them, how to breed them, how to calve them, than our parents and grandparents did,” Capper said. “Over the last 30 years, we’ve used 12 percent less water per pound of beef. We use 33 percent less land per pound of beef, and the carbon footprint per pound has come down by 16 percent. It’s a huge achievement on behalf of the industry.”
In addition, her research found that with modern production practices, the beef industry uses 10 percent less energy, 20 percent less feedstuffs and 9 percent less fossil fuel. Further, according to Capper’s research there were 13 percent fewer animals in 2007 compared to 1977, but those animals produced 13 percent more beef.
Capper said regardless of production methods used, any production system can be sustainable if economic viability, environmental responsibility and social acceptability are in place.
“It doesn’t matter if you have 20 cows, 200 cows or 2,000 cows, whether you have Angus, Hereford, Limousin or Belted Galloway, any system can be sustainable providing these three things are in place,” Capper said.