One of the issues that people often bring up to me as a beef producer is the "footrprint" of eating meat versus a strictly vegetarian diet. I know that my cattle are raised on land that could not be (or should not be) used for any sort of cultivation, but I've been looking for some good research reports on the subject. I got some leads from friends at the American Farmland Trust.
A study at Cornell University looked at a range of diets in terms of how much of New York's population could be fed by food produced within the state. Although a strictly vegetarian diet uses the least total land mass, a diet that includes some meat and dairy is more efficient in terms of total land use and sustainability. The reason is that fruits, vegetables and grains must be grown on high-quality cropland. Meat and dairy products from ruminant animals are supported by lower quality, but more widely available, land that can support pasture and hay.
The Delta Farm Press cites the same study, but also points out that biotechnology can further reduce the footprint through less chemicals (i.e. bt Cotton) or getting more production from fewer animals (i.e. rBST).
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