Latest study confirms an animal-free food system is not holistically sustainable.


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[1], 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.


[1] 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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