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Coming to a grocery store near you: Low-carbon beef

Environmental impacts of our food
Environmental impacts of our food 05:42

Meat eaters worried about climate change can soon put their money where their mouth is by purchasing steaks produced with a reduced carbon footprint. 

Americans already willing to pay more for organic food and grass-fed cattle would likely fork over more money for more sustainable steak, reasons Colin Beal, whose Stillwater, Oklahoma-based company, Low Carbon Beef (LCB), certifies cattle produced with 10% lower greenhouse gas emissions than the industry average.

While estimates vary, a United Nations report attributed nearly 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions to raising animals for slaughter. The problem stems in part from issues ranging from fertilizer-intensive farming of grain to feed animals to the disposal of their manure. 

"It is a problem — doing nothing is not really an option anymore," Beal said about the role of livestock production in climate change.

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Colin Beal, an engineer who started Low Carbon Beef in 2018, said "doing nothing is not really an option" when it comes to reducing the impact of cattle on the environment.  Low Carbon Beef LLC

LCB's program is the first approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for certifying that beef is from cattle raised to produce fewer greenhouse gases, the company announced on Tuesday. 

"We need to do more than talk about change, we have to be able to measure it, verify it and provide a better product for consumers," Beal said in the statement. "The Low Carbon Beef certification provides consumers the ability to purchase beef that is produced with efficient and sustainable methods, while also supporting market-based premiums for beef producers."  

Started in 2018, LCB has already certified several thousand heads of cattle, Beal said. Farmers and ranchers can enroll their cattle to be certified, with livestock assessed by criteria including feeds, fuels and fertilizers. The program will evolve amid new research on soil carbon sequestration, anti-methane feed additives and bioenergy production from manure, the company said. The aim is to provide additional certifications, including carbon-negative beef. 

"In the future we're interested in bigger reductions, maybe a tiered system," said Beal, whose company conducts yearly audits and provides guidance for producers on ways they can further cut emissions. 

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Colin Beal, founder of Low Carbon Beef, feeding cattle at his company's pilot herd near Stillwater, Oklahoma, in 2020. Low Carbon Beef 

When organic food became popular more than a decade ago, it was unclear what the term actually meant; now the USDA has an entire regulatory program devoted to the agricultural sector. 

"I wouldn't be surprised if over time we see that same type of development happen here," Beal, who grew up in a cattle-raising family and obtained a doctorate in engineering, told CBS MoneyWatch.

The appetite for food viewed as healthier for people and the environment is an opportunity for restaurants, retailers and those raising cattle, he added. "We've done some market comparisons — USDA organic beef can retail for double."

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