Economic and Environmental Impacts Associated With Removal of Performance-Enhancing Technologies in the Canadian Beef Cattle Industry

Project Title

Economic and Environmental Impacts Associated With Removal of Productivity- Enhancing Technologies in the Canadian Beef Cattle Industry


Tim McAllister, Ph.D. and Kim Ominski, Ph.D.

Tim McAllister, Ph.D. (Agriculture Agri-Food Canada Lethbridge); Kim Ominski, Ph.D. (University of Manitoba); Karen Beauchemin Ph.D., Roland Kroebel Ph.D. and Shannan Little (Agriculture Agri-Food Canada Lethbridge); Getahun Legesse Gizaw Ph.D., (Manitoba Agriculture) Emma McGeough Ph.D., Karin Wittenberg Ph.D., Jared Carlberg Ph.D. (UManitoba); John McKinnon Ph.D. (University of Saskatchewan); Robin White Ph.D. (Virginia Tech); Mark Klassen (Canadian Cattlemen's Association)

Status Project Code
Completed March, 2023 ENV.15.17


Studies in Canada and elsewhere have demonstrated that modern cattle production systems have improved production efficiency, thereby lowering the environmental footprint of beef production on an intensity basis. Improvements in animal production efficiency, including average daily gain and feed efficiency have occurred via genetic advancements and improved feeding and management strategies. Productivity-enhancing technologies (PETs) such as growth hormones, beta-adrenergic agonists (βAA), and ionophores are conventional feed technologies that have been used by the cattle industry for decades to improve the growth and feed efficiency of beef cattle and lower the cost of production.  

In some countries, conventional PETs have been banned due to consumer concerns (not always science based) over food safety, animal welfare, and antimicrobial resistance. This has resulted in a growing interest in the use of non-conventional (“free-from”), a well as “natural” feed additives including fibrolytic enzymes, essential oils, probiotics, or direct-fed-microbials in beef production. However, consumers are largely unaware of the implications of eliminating PETs from the production system on environmental sustainability and future food security. This team evaluated the financial and environmental consequences of removing PETs from beef cattle production in Canada.  


  • Evaluate and compare the environmental impacts of raising steers and heifers with and without the use of conventionally PETs in a Canadian production system  
  • Assess the effectiveness of natural feed additives in increasing performance to reduce environmental impacts of Canadian beef production  

What They Did

A life cycle assessment approach was used to assess the impact of utilizing PETs on GHG and NH3 emissions, as well as water and land use. The Holos model was used to estimate on-farm GHG emissions.  On-farm emissions that were assessed included (i) methane (CH4) arising from enteric fermentation and manure decomposition, (ii) nitrous oxide (N2O; direct) from cropping, and (iii) carbon dioxide (CO2) from energy use. Inputs for crop production, such as fertilizers and pesticides, and indirect emissions of N2O from N leaching and volatilization were also examined. Ammonia emissions were estimated by examining daily N excretion by cattle. Water use associated with feed production was estimated based on water demand, green water (precipitation that evaporates or transpired through the crops), and blue water (irrigation) for each crop and the consumption (kg DM) of dietary ingredients. 

What They Learned

The use of conventional PETs (implants, MGA, monensin, tylosin, and βAA) can effectively improve the sustainability of beef production by decreasing GHG and NH3 emissions as well as land and water use.  

Feeding natural feed additives as opposed to conventional ones did not improve heifer or steer performance and actually increased the environmental footprint of beef production. Although some natural feed additives appeared to decrease GHG and NH3 emissions, as well as land and water use at a constant days on feed (DOF), cattle productivity and carcass performance were not improved.  

In fact, natural cattle were found to require more DOF compared to those administered PETs after adjusting the slaughter weights. The increased DOF demonstrated that the removal of the conventional technologies (implants, MGA, monensin, tylosin, and βAA) and the use of natural feed additives could increase the environmental footprint of beef production. Interestingly, positive additive effects on animal performance and/or environment were seen with the administration of conventional PETs (i.e., MGA, tylosin, monensin, and βAA) in combination with essential oils. Therefore, further research on the additive effects of the conventional treatments and essential oils should be conducted.  

Implanted heifers and steers had increased animal performance with the decreased environmental impact of cattle during finishing. Therefore, removal of these conventional technologies or a replacement with natural feed additives could negatively impact productivity as well as the environmental sustainability of Canadian feedlot cattle production. 

What It Means

Results from this modelling study suggest that the use of PET will lower GHG and NH3 emissions, as well as land and water use, thereby decreasing the environmental footprint associated with feedlot cattle during backgrounding and finishing in western Canada. Improvements in ADG, feed efficiency, and slaughter weight as a result of PET use were the main factors that contributed to the decrease in each of the environmental impacts described. This study adds to the growing body of evidence that the use of PET results in a significant reduction in the environmental footprint of beef within North American production systems.