What Is 'Low Carbon Beef?'

The new USDA Certification requires producers to meet stricter greenhouse gas emissions standards than traditional beef.

Beef production is regularly cited as a key contributor to climate change, primarily due to the amount of greenhouse gases — especially methane — it produces. But not all beef is created equal, at least according to Low Carbon Beef (LCB), a company that certifies cattle raised with lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. And thanks to a recent USDA approval, you may soon be seeing Low Carbon Beef certifications on retail beef labels.

Launched in 2018, Low Carbon Beef explains itself as "the only lifecycle-based approach to certifying beef with a significantly reduced carbon footprint over U.S. baseline beef production." Specifically, the company defines "significantly" as at ten percent below the industry baseline with cattle being "measured across 20 criteria associated with feeds, fuels, fertilizers, and cattle function."

Brown cows grazing in a field
George Pachantouris / Getty Images

The idea is that, similar to how customers are willing to pay a premium for products that are certified organic, LCB certification can allow more environmentally-conscious beef producers to charge a premium — and, hopefully, further incentivize other producers to lower their emissions. LCB believes that by becoming the first USDA Process Verified Program (PVP) Service Provider "for calculating the life cycle GHG emissions for beef production" better positions them to achieve this goal.

"We need to do more than talk about change, we have to be able to measure it, verify it, and provide a better product for consumers," LCB founder Colin Beal, who has a PhD in engineering, but also grew up working with cattle with his father, stated. "The Low Carbon Beef certification provides consumers the ability to purchase beef that is produced with efficient and sustainable methods, while also supporting market-based premiums for beef producers. Farmers and ranchers who put sustainable practices in place, and the packers who support reducing emissions, deserve a premium for the work they are doing to improve beef's carbon footprint. LCB provides the third-party data that retailers, restaurant operators, and consumers need to be confident they are making a more sustainable choice."

According to the company, Low Carbon Beef statements and logos have yet to appear on beef sold at retail stores, but due to their recent USDA approval, that could change in the future. "If a meat packer, processor, or retailer would like to use the Low Carbon Beef logo and/or certification for 'beef produced with reduced greenhouse gas emissions,' they would work with the USDA Food Safety and Inspective Service (FSIS) to make sure the food labels comply with the certification standards," Beal told me via email. "The Low Carbon Beef certification of the cattle would provide the verification that the beef is produced with climate smart production practices; and ultimately USDA has the oversight to ensure that the claim is accurate and transparent to the buyer."

Beal also told CBS News that the ten-percent threshold was potentially just the beginning. "In the future, we're interested in bigger reductions, maybe a tiered system," he was quoted as saying. Beal also said he'd like to branch out into additional certifications, such as carbon-negative beef.

"People may love beef, but they also want to feel good about the food they are eating," Beal told AgWeb. "There are a lot of people who have stopped eating beef because of the impact on the climate."

And, as he told me, "If consumers are interested in purchasing beef produced with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, let your grocers and local suppliers know that you want Low Carbon Beef and send them to our website to learn more!"

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