Beef is the third most commonly consumed meat in the world, after pork and chicken. Beef production generates significant greenhouse gas emissions and wastes that contribute to water pollution.

The brief provides summary of the main environmental and social factors that affect beef production worldwide, however, it spotlights key players in the U.S. value chain, and provides examples of actions being taken by companies operating or headquartered in the U.S.


  • Demand for beef is expanding, propelled by rising incomes and population growth.
  • The U.S. and Brazil are the two largest producers of beef worldwide.
  • Beef production generates significant greenhouse gas emissions and wastes that contribute to water pollution, when handled poorly.
  • Beef production also uses a lot of water. In the U.S., water availability is one of the key issues affecting beef production.
  • The production of beef and cattle feed uses a lot of land and also drives deforestation in countries like Brazil.
  • Investors should address risk in the beef supply chain through direct engagement with their portfolio companies and support of relevant policies and multi-stakeholder collaborations. Effective implementation of a company's policies requires promoting commodity traceability and having a clear approach to supplier engagement, verification and disclosure of progress.

Environmental and Social Factors that Drive Risks

Commodity Background

  • Beef is the third most commonly consumed meat in the world, after pork and chicken.
  • Globally the demand for beef during the next several decades is expected to continue (by approximately 60 percent by 2050).  This increase is driven in large part by a growing global population, rising incomes, urbanization and westernization of diets in developing countries.
  • Beef products are typically sold as wholesale cuts, ground beef for commercial use, or packaged cuts sold in retail outlets. Beef byproducts, including leather and fat, are used for many non-food items, including candles, crayons, paint and shoes.

Top Production Regions

The U.S. and Brazil are the Largest Producers of Beef, Accounting for One-Third of Global Production

On average, less than 5 percent of beef is exported globally, given the heavy weight of beef, trade policies, concern about spoilage and potential cold chain failures.


Supply Chain

The beef supply chain is complex, involving numerous steps and types of operations


Company Examples


Cargill has committed to reduce in beef production the use of antibiotics medically important to human health. It does not use growth promoting antibiotics--that are medically important--in the cattle it owns or its partnership cattle. It is also encouraging other cattle feeders to evaluate their use of antibiotics.


McDonald’s has made several commitments to improving beef production:

  • In 2011, McDonald's helped found the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) and in 2016, the company began to purchase a portion of its beef from verified sustainable sources. In early 2017 it announced a 2020 aspiration to 'support sustainable beef production,' which includes setting specific country-based beef sustainability targets in 10 countries.
  • In 2017, 100 percent of the facilities from which the company buys beef (as well as poultry and pork) passed audits that complied with McDonald's animal welfare standards.


Walmart has adopted an animal welfare policy and developed a position on responsible use of antibiotics in farm animals in the U.S. It has committed that, by the end of 2020, beef sourced from Brazil will be zero net deforestation and is working to create a dedicated sustainable beef supply chain for 15 percent of its beef sales in the U.S. It is also developing expectations for responsible labor practices with suppliers.