More than 780 million acres in the United States—an area twice the size of Alaska—are home to grazing livestock (mostly beef cattle), and scientists estimate that more than half of these lands are poorly managed. The consequences of this poor management can include climate change pollution, soil erosion, desertification, pollution of streams and waterways, and alarming declines of some of America’s most iconic native plant and wildlife species.
Fortunately, a growing number of ranchers and farmers are improving their land management using science and by learning from the experiences of other ranchers. As a result, their properties are more productive, and local ecosystems are thriving as they support healthy soil, water quality, and plant and animal life. These leaders are making an important difference in conserving and restoring America's grazed ecosystems.
After spending the first half to two-thirds of their lives on grazing operations, virtually all U.S. beef cattle—97 percent—are fattened for slaughter on industrial feedlots that can house thousands of head of cattle. Pollution from these factory farms poses serious risks to human health and the environment. Manure contributes to global-warming pollution and can contaminate local waterways and aquifers. The massive amounts of grain that cows are fed are often produced in ways that contribute to climate change, dead zone pollution, and colony collapse disorder in bees. Antibiotics misuse on these farms is also aiding the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Meanwhile, meat buyers who want to choose "better" beef face a limited and confusing set of labels, none of which comprehensively addresses the full range of sustainability issues. Until now.
As a founding partner of the Grasslands Alliance, NRDC is collaborating with a wide range of stakeholders to help develop and implement a set of credible, independent standards for better beef production in the United States and Canada. These standards will address the health of our nation's grasslands and other grazed ecosystems; whether cattle are treated humanely and workers fairly; and how ranchers and farmers grow grass and feed crops. Later, NRDC aims to develop standards that address the impacts that happen during later stages of production.
We're working with ranchers, beef buyers, consumers, and other NGOs to build broad support for the principles behind these standards. At the same time, we're helping connect beef producers with the technical training, financing, and other support they need to transition to better practices, ensuring that they see significant bottom-line benefits.