Researchers Undertake American Lamb Environmental Footprint Study
Environmental concerns about livestock production continue to gain traction, and the American Lamb industry entered the spotlight when a 2011 Environmental Working Group Study characterized lamb as one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The study’s outcomes are still cited at influential conferences and in the media.
“Sustainability issues have proven to be very important to consumers. They are definitely not a fad. And, consumers are showing they are willing to make purchases based on their concerns, including the choices being made to select plant-forward meals and reduce meat consumption,” says Gwen Kitzan, chair of the American Lamb Board (ALB). “Food companies of all sizes are putting demands on producers and suppliers to provide environmental footprint data.”
Recently, Colorado Governor Polis signed a proclamation promoting March 20, which is traditionally National Agriculture Day, as Meat Out Day. Influencers and celebrities are prominent in sustainability activism. For example, Bill Gates was quoted as saying, “I do think all rich countries should move to 100% synthetic beef” as a way to address climate change.
ALB is working with a multidisciplinary team at Michigan State University (MSU) to evaluate the environmental footprint of the US sheep industry in order to have accurate and robust data to contribute to this very important issue. The initial focus of the study has been to define a comprehensive model of GHG emissions for the diverse array of U.S. sheep production systems, such as range, farm flock pasture and intensive, and feedlot. MSU will conduct a partial life cycle analysis (LCA) of lamb production in these types of operations to quantify GHG emissions.
As work progresses, data will be assembled on various GHG mitigation strategies, primarily via land and crop management practices. During the final phase, MSU will define environmental improvement strategies that are the most feasible and impactful for sheep producers to employ according to their particular production system. A blueprint for producer education strategies to address these priorities will wrap up the project.