Protein types

Beef

Beef cattle are responsible for the most emissions from livestock and the most water-intensive protein. Cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation. The vast amounts of manure produced by cattle impacts air, soil and water quality through contaminated runoffs and by applying too much manure in surrounding areas.

Key stats

69
%
11 of the 16 companies that produce or sell beef do not discuss deforestation risks in soy supply chains, including two pure-play beef companies.

The Index includes 16 companies that produce and sell beef products, including three that are pure-play beef producing companies. These 16 companies contribute a total of $146 billion in revenues (46% of the total 2018 revenues for all 60 Index companies). They have a market capitalisation of $94 billion (29% of the total). The estimated revenue linked to beef production and sales alone is approximately $66 billion.

Results

  • 98% of the water footprint associated with animal proteins is linked to feed production. Companies that produce or sell beef are not addressing water risks in their feed supply chains.
  • Only 1 of the 16 companies that produce or sell beef has set a science-based emissions reduction target.
  • Companies that produce or sell beef are not managing their significant water pollution risks.
  • Companies that produce or sell beef demonstrate very poor awareness of antibiotics stewardship. Over 50% of companies have no policy on antibiotics use.
  • Beef companies are vulnerable to food safety risks and are responding with certifications that meet international food safety requirements. 63% disclose some level of certification by schemes recognised by the Global Food Safety Initiative.

Number of beef companies ranked as high, medium and low risk by factor 

Average score across beef companies by risk factor

Risk factor materiality

Risk factor

 

Description
GHG emissions Enteric fermentation produces methane (CH4) through the decomposition and fermentation of plant materials by microbes in the digestive tract of ruminants. Enteric fermentation from cattle is the largest driver of emissions from livestock, at 39% of all emissions associated with the sector.

 

Deforestation and biodiversity loss Cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation, especially in ecologically sensitive areas like Brazil. The country is the world’s biggest exporter of beef. It is set to increase its exports from 20% to 23% of global beef exports by 2028.

 

Water scarcity

 

Beef cattle is the most water-intensive protein, at six times the water intensity of pulses (on a per gram of protein basis).

 

Waste and pollution Almost 97% of the cattle in the US are ‘finished’ in feedlots. These typically contain hundreds of thousands of cattle in a small space at any given time. The vast amounts of manure produced by cattle impacts air, soil and water quality through contaminated runoffs and by applying too much manure in surrounding areas.

 

Antibiotics Antibiotics are used extensively in beef feedlots, where most intensively farmed cattle are fattened before slaughtering. In the US, for example, farmers routinely feed cattle Tylosin. This is a medically important drug to prevent diseases like liver abscesses, which occur from grain-fed diets.

 

Labour conditions In Brazil, the cattle industry has the largest number of slave labour cases in the country. In 2016 and 2017, 280 workers were rescued from the industry at 46 different ranches.