Yet that story hasn’t caught on. “The consumer often hears that grass-fed must be best,” she said. Capper and her research team analyzed and compared the environmental impact of three beef production systems: conventional, natural and grass-fed.

Looking at conventional, with its growth-enhancing technologies like implants and ionophores, versus natural production, cattle in the latter system take more days to finish.

“Animals that grow faster and weigh more cut the environmental impact,” she said. That’s magnified when comparing conventional to grass-fed, as average days from birth to harvest increase by 226 and carcass weights drop by 185 pounds.

“To convert to an entirely grass-fed system, we’d need to more than double the number of the cows in the United States today just to maintain beef supply,” Capper said. Land use would increase by 131 million acres, equivalent to 75 percent of the area of Texas, and water use would skyrocket by 468 billion gallons.

Capper showed several highly publicized studies containing suspect assumptions about the modern beef industry.

“This is very dangerous because it’s put out there as fact in an international science magazine,” she said of one example. “Potentially, it turns consumers away from beef.” Ranchers, stockers and feeders need to keep getting better, and talking about it.

Reducing mortality and morbidity is one step. “It’s important to keep having healthier animals. They’re going to gain better and grow faster,” she said.

Reproduction is another. “Only about 86 percent of cows have a live calf every year. If that was 90 percent, 95 percent or 99 percent, that would make a huge improvement in productivity,” Capper said. “If we improve our land, better grasses, better feed, those animals are going to grow faster.”

Good news is found in a recent study showing 94 percent of worldwide consumers either support or are neutral toward the use of technology in food production.

“Most consumers just want affordable, safe, nutritious food that tastes good,” she said.

To view Capper’s research go to http://wsu.academia.edu/JudeCapper/Papers.

For more information on the Certified Angus Beef ® brand Annual Conference, go to www.certifiedangusbeef.com.

mreiman@certifiedangusbeef.com