Agriculture Reference
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of water, land use obviously, and an awful lot of waste.
If we have a grass-fed animal compared to a corn-fed
animal, that's like adding almost one car to the road for
every single animal. That's a huge increase in carbon
—Jude Capper, “Why Grass-Fed Beef Is Worse for
Environment,” interview by John Stossel, Stossel ,
May 6, 2011, Fox Business Video.
Capper and her colleagues have published studies in the
peer-reviewed scientific literature showing that grass-fed,
organic, and most “natural” beef production systems have a
higher carbon footprint than conventional beef. Feedlots sim-
ply produce beef more efficiently than forage systems. By using
fewer inputs to produce a pound of beef, less fossil fuels are
required to produce those inputs, and on a per-pound basis
the carbon footprint for corn-fed beef is smaller. Moreover, it
takes longer to “finish” grass-fed cattle, which means the cow
has to live longer to produce the same amount of beef, and
during that time the cow constantly expels methane. Capper
reports that a conventional beef production system requires
only 56  percent of the animals needed to produce the same
amount of beef as a grass-fed system, only 25  percent of the
water, 55 percent of the land, and 71 percent of the fossil fuels.
Because it is less efficient, the carbon footprint for grass-fed
beef is 68  percent higher than that of corn-fed beef, Capper
So, who is correct: Byck or Capper? It depends on the rate at
which the extra pasture needed for producing grass-fed beef
can sequester carbon. Although sequestration numbers are
highly sensitive to environmental conditions, most of the mea-
surements suggest Capper is correct and that grass-fed beef
would actually increase the carbon footprint of a steak.
Byck is then correct only if his optimistic assumptions about
the ability of soil to sequester carbon are correct. Carbon Nation
is absolutely right that plant growth can sequester carbon
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