How to Avoid Beef That Destroys Rainforests

Beef from Brazil is driving climate change and destroying ecosystems. Here's how to avoid it.

May 23, 2011

Don't let your cookout be a rainforest-ruiner.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Your next frozen pizza could be destroying the Amazonian rainforest. That is, if it's topped with ground beef that came from Brazil (and chances are, that beef topping did). In a recent issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology, scientists noted that beef production in Brazil is the primary driver of rainforest deforestation, which in turn is one of the world's largest drivers of climate change.


The scientists calculated that raising a single kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of Brazilian beef on deforested rainforest produces 103 kilograms, or 227 pounds, of greenhouse gases, mostly because of the environmental damage wrought by killing all those trees. When deforestation isn't taken into account, Brazilian beef is responsible for just 40 kilograms of greenhouse gases per kilogram of beef. That's high even compared to U.S. concentrated animal-feeding operations, in which thousands of cattle are crammed into small spaces and fed diets high in grain that then cause the animals to produce excessive amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. A study published last year by researchers from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State found that one kilogram of U.S. feedlot beef produced about 15 kilograms, or 33 pounds, of greenhouse gases.

The U.S. produces most of the 27 billion pounds of beef we consume here at home, but we do import just under 3 billion pounds of it from places like Canada and Brazil. Nearly all the beef imported from Brazil comes in processed form, for instance, the frozen beef used on pizzas or the stuff used in fast-food hamburger patties. All the more reason to opt for whole foods and find grass-fed beef locally!

With the Memorial Day holiday and its requisite barbecues approaching, find a local producer of organic, grass-fed beef. It's better for the planet, and better for you: Grass-fed beef is higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, whereas feedlot beef contains more omega-6 fatty acids, the kind more associated with promoting inflammation than easing it.

For help, see our Guide to Buying Grass-fed Beef.

Then, before you fire up the grill, print out a few recipes from 5 Better Ways to Make a Burger.

Going meatless this Memorial Day? Try one of these 5 Mouthwatering, Meat-Free (and Tofu-Free) Burgers.