By: Sara Place, Ph.D, Sr. Director Sustainable Beef Production Research at National
Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program
Let’s be clear, a healthy and sustainable food system depends on having both plants and
animals. Researchers at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and Virginia Tech just
published a study in the Proceedings of National Academies of Sciences confirming this
socially debated fact. The study examined what our world would look like without animal
agriculture in the U.S. The bottom line? We’d reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the
U.S. by 2.6 percent, and 0.36 percent globally, but we’d also upset our balanced food
ecosystem and lack essential dietary nutrients to feed all Americans.
Rather than continuing to debate what needs to come off our dinner plate all together,
let’s start focusing our attention on making the whole plate better. The social battle
underway about what type of agriculture is best (local vs. non-local, vegan vs. omnivore,
organic vs. conventional, grass-fed vs. grain-fed) is getting us nowhere. We need it all for
a resilient food system that provides choice and affordable, nutritional options. Our
greater opportunity is in improving the food system’s sustainability, such as better soil
health, economic viability of farmers, animal welfare, and lower greenhouse gas
emissions, regardless of the production system.
 White, R.R. and M.B. Hall. 2017. Nutritional and greenhouse gas impacts of removing animals from US agriculture.
Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. 114(48) E10301-E10308. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1707322114
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