The Beef Checkoff Program launched a comprehensive lifecycle assessment to quantify and benchmark environmental, social, and economic aspects of beef industry sustainability from 2005-2011. Improvements have been made in many areas including emissions to water and soil, energy and water use, and greenhouse gas emissions. One major improvement goal is reducing food waste. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), beef is one of the least wasted foods, with 20 percent spoiled or not eaten, but that still leaves a lot of room for improvement! If beef waste were cut in half, the sustainability of the whole industry could be improved by 10 percent.
Cattle have a unique four-chambered stomach, the largest chamber being the rumen, which helps them get the nutrients they need from parts of fruit and vegetable plants that humans don’t consume or can’t digest—like carrot tops, almond hulls or grasses. These leftovers are often mixed into their feed, along with other grasses or hay like alfalfa and grains like corn. Cattle are acting as “upcyclers” in our food system by upgrading human inedible material or food waste into high-quality protein and essential micronutrients.
Mike Ameele of Ameele Farms LLC. in Walworth, NY discusses how he is utilizing apple pomace on his farm. Photo Credit: Lauren Keating, Healthy-Delicious.com
For example, in New York, about 29.5 million bushels of apple are grown annually. When those apples are further processed to make new products, such as apple sauce or cider, a by-product, apple pomace, is created. Instead of the apple pomace being wasted Mike Ameele uses it on his farm to cover his feed bunk, reducing waste. Besides protecting his feed and helping it ferment the pomace also serves as a source of nutrients for his cattle.