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Should Environmentalists Just Say No to Eating Beef?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page, Organic Transitions page and our Factory Farming and Food Safety page.

Like plastic bags, coal, and SUVs, beef has few friends in the environmental community. Most environmentalists would point to beef - in particular, beef cattle that spend their final days in confined feedlots - as being responsible for an array of ills - the greenhouse gas emissions that the cattle generate; the groundwater pollution from their manure; the use of antibiotics in animal feed; the vast quantities of monoculture corn grown to feed the cattle; and the enormous amount of chemical fertilizers and water needed to grow the corn. As advocacy group Food and Water Watch put it in a 2010 report, "The significant growth in industrial-scale, factory-farmed livestock has contributed to a host of environmental, public health, food safety and animal welfare problems."

Jason Clay believes those problems can be fixed. Clay, 61, who grew up on a Missouri farm, is senior vice president for market transformation at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and an expert on the environmental impacts of farming. He has now set out to "green" the hamburger - along with the steak, the prime rib, and the rest of the steer.

To that end, WWF this year helped launch the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, an association of businesses and environmental groups that has begun to "facilitate a global dialogue on beef production that is environmentally sound, socially responsible, and economically viable." The roundtable plans to identify the best practices for raising beef, and spread them widely using the leverage of retailers like Wal-Mart and brands like McDonald's to do so. Someday your burger may come with fries, a Coke, and a "green" seal of approval.


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