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 by supporting relevant policies and multi-stakeholder collaborations.

Environmental and Social Factors that Drive Risks

Commodity Background

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. 


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 by 20 percent 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.


McDonald’s has made several commitments to improving beef production. The company’s 2020 aspirational goal is to support sustainable beef production. In 2011, it helped found the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) and in 2016 began to purchase a portion of its beef from verified sustainable sources. McDonald’s requires that all facilities providing meat pass a rigorous animal welfare audit. 


Walmart has adopted an animal welfare policy and position on responsible use of antibiotics in farm animals in the U.S. It is working to create a dedicated beef supply with environmental specifications by 2023. This supply chain would account for 15 percent of the industry.