A federal study finds environmental impacts of Swiss beef produced from pasture-fed cattle are “significantly higher” than those that are fattened in confinement and slaughtered sooner.
The study by Agroscope, an agricultural research centre affiliated with the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture, compared beef produced under Swiss labels that require certain ecological benefits.
It found a kilogram of meat produced from pasture-fed cattle had the highest environmental burden in 14 of 16 categories. The reason? Those that graze at pasture eat more and grow more slowly, according to a government statement on Thursday.
The categories studied include energy demand, global warming potential, deforestation and use of water, phosphorus and potassium. Agroscope regularly examines ways of sustaining and improving Swiss agriculture, food and the environment.
Fodder for improvement
In Switzerland, about a third of the diet for fattening cattle comes from concentrates like corn grains and cereals. They typically reach their slaughter weight within 15 months – two months less than it takes for grazing cattle, which also emit more methane and ammonia (from outdoor exercise).
“The results help to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the different systems and the potential for improvement,” the researchers said in the statement.
The study noted that the results were different with cattle raised for milk production, which have “more favorable environmental impacts” due to good grass growth and low use of concentrates.
However, it said the study did not examine the effects on biodiversity and other aspects of sustainability such as animal welfare or economic factors.