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June 28, 2012 

Report Links Beef Production with Deforestation, Threats to Climate and Health

Scientists Recommend Americans Replace Beef with Poultry or Pork

WASHINGTON (June 28, 2012) – With the Fourth of July just around the corner, millions of Americans are planning to fire up the backyard grill for one of the top family events of the summer. Few of them realize, however, that the beef they’re going to barbeque threatens not only their health, but the future of the planet.

A report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), “Grade A Choice? Solutions for Deforestation-Free Meat,” found that if Americans shifted their diets toward less beef and more poultry or pork, they would protect their health, protect forests, and protect the planet by reducing carbon emissions. 

“We have a big beef with beef,” said Doug Boucher, director of UCS’s Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative and a co-author of the report. “Because of the way it is produced, the more beef we eat, the worse global warming gets.”

Beef is what scientists would call an ‘inefficient’ protein,” Boucher explained. It requires substantial resources to produce compared with what it contributes to the human diet. For example, the report found that beef production uses about 60 percent of the world’s agricultural land but produces less than 5 percent of the protein and less than 2 percent of the calories that feed the global population.

Most Americans are probably aware of the health threat posed by eating beef. It has been linked to a variety of health problems, including coronary heart disease and breast, colon and prostate cancer. But most are likely unaware of the environmental problems of beef production.

Cattle ranching requires large tracts of land. In Brazil—the biggest net exporter of meat in the world—and other Latin American countries, ranchers clear-cut tropical forests to provide pasture land for their herds. This contributes to global warming in two ways. First, when ranchers cut down trees, much of the carbon they store goes into the atmosphere. Second, grazing cattle produce methane—a powerful gas that has 23 times the warming effect of carbon—which is released from their stomachs and manure.

Tropical deforestation is responsible for about 15 percent of the world’s heat-trapping emissions—more carbon pollution than the emissions from every car, truck, plane, ship and train on Earth. As demand for beef goes up, so too does deforestation.

And conversely, because beef production is a global market, as the demand for beef is reduced in the United States or anywhere else, the price of beef will decline and the incentives to deforest for beef production will also be reduced.

“There are many tasty alternatives to the beef hamburger” said Boucher. “Why not try spare ribs, a pulled pork sandwich, a turkey burger, chicken kebabs, or a veggie burger? If you want fewer cancers, less heart disease, more forests, and less global warming, eat less beef.”

Note: “Grade A Choice?” is the second in series of reports highlighting the major causes of deforestation. The first report, “Recipes for Success,” analyzed the connection between vegetable oils and deforestation. The third report, about the wood products industry, is expected this fall.


The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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