Are Cattle Drinking Canada Dry?



We often see headlines about how human lifestyle and dietary choices (particularly beef consumption) can impact environmental sustainability. These headlines are often about greenhouse gases, but water use has become a part of this conversation as well. Vilifying headlines and simple, partial arguments are interesting and emotional; that sells papers and gets clicks. Complex, science-based facts about the positive impacts cattle have on the environment and the need for both crops and cattle across the country’s diverse landscape are less exciting, but here they are:

Beef cattle use water

Make no mistake – it does take more water to produce a pound of uncooked, boneless beef (over 1,800 gallons/6814 liters) than to produce a pound of dry peas (178 gallons/674 liters), dry beans (488 gallons/1847 liters) or dry lentils (577 gallons/2184 liters), or any other protein crop, but this is only one of many pieces of information to consider. The pastures and feed crops that beef cattle eat account for nearly all (99%) of the water used in beef production.

Does that mean that the land used to raise cattle should be converted to crop production? Not necessarily. There are many reasons why not all land is suitable for cultivated agriculture and why raising beef plays an important role in sustainably feeding the population. Continue reading

Questioning the beef industry’s water use

April 22nd is Earth Day. Earth Day is recognized globally by people from all walks of life as a way to foster environmental respect and celebrate conservation.


cattle beef water use
Cattle producers across Canada chose to make their living as stewards of the land and certainly appreciate and depend on a healthy environment.  Earth Day is an excellent time for all of us in the industry to celebrate environmental achievements, and cultivate discussion about further advancement.

Let’s ask questions, seek answers and talk about how we can make continual improvements related to greenhouse gas and manure management, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, nutrient cycling and more.

Water conservation is a hot topic. As concerns rise about depletion of water resources both locally and globally, livestock production and other agriculture sectors are often criticized for water use.

What can the Canadian beef industry do to conserve water?

First we need to Continue reading

Beef: a Nutritious Part of a Sustainable Diet

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.


march 16 cc
In July 2014, a well-respected journal called Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a report that criticized meat production in general, and beef production in general, on the basis of their environmental footprints (“Land, irrigation, water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States”, PNAS 111:11996-12001). That paper has been refuted in this column and elsewhere, so I won’t rehash those details again, except to point out that the authors indicated that globalization meant that Americans’ dietary habits are rapidly adopted by “large and burgeoning economies as those of China and India”. They went on to suggest that appropriately legislating American diets would help people in emerging economies make better (and more environmentally sound) eating decisions. That idea came very close to reality last year. Continue reading

Hot Air Doesn’t Just Come from Cattle

A week ago, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published “Land, irrigation, water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States”.

The authors, a physicist from Bard College in New York, a physicist and a graduate student from Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, and a Yale graduate student with a master’s degree in political science, looked at lifecycle assessments (LCA’s) for livestock. An LCA tries to estimate environmental impacts by looking at the inputs used (e.g. energy, feed, fertilizer, water, etc.) and outputs generated (e.g. greenhouse gases, smog, manure, fertilizer runoff, etc.) when meat, milk or eggs are produced, processed, transported, distributed, consumed, and recycled.

The authors of this study noted that regional variations in production systems and environments are important: “the results of an LCA conducted in Iowa, for example, are unlikely to represent Vermont or Colorado”. A key challenge, they said, “is Continue reading

5 ways to prepare to meet future sustainable beef requirements

This is a guest post written by Fawn Jackson, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association Manager of Environmental Affairs.

The market appears to be sending a strong signal that consumers want sustainable products, and furthermore, they want proof. Last week McDonalds announced a commitment to source verified sustainable beef by 2016. A&W currently claims their beef has been raised by producers at the leading edge of sustainable production practices and Walmart continually promises to deliver more sustainable agricultural products.

Beef producers in Canada and abroad are left wondering: Continue reading

Sustainable Beef

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.



“Sustainability” means different things to different people. To some, it means being able to pass a healthy business on to the next generation. To others, sustainability is about caring for the environment. Some define sustainability as maintaining society’s approval and confidence in how cattle are raised and beef is produced. They’re all partly right. Sustainability is like a three legged stool, supported by economic viability, environmental soundness and social responsibility. The stool won’t be very well balanced unless all three legs are roughly the right size.

In many cases, improvements in one aspect of sustainability contribute to improvements in other aspects. For example, economic viability and environmental responsibility appear to be very compatible.

Continue reading