U.S. beef producer perspectives on “sustainable beef” and implications for sustainability transitions

Ada P. Smith, Alexander L. Metcalf, Elizabeth Covelli Metcalf, Laurie Yung, Brenna Swinger, Tina M. Cummins, Brian C. Chaffin, Austin Shuver, Drew Slattery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Beef production systems are at the center of ongoing discussion and debate on food systems sustainability. There is a growing interest among beef producers, consumers, and other beef supply chain stakeholders in achieving greater sustainability within the industry, but the relationship of this interest to general sustainability issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, food security, livelihood risks, and animal welfare concerns is unclear. Specifically, there is very little research documenting how beef producers define and view the concept of sustainability and how to achieve it. Producer perspectives are critical to identifying constraints to sustainability transitions or to help build agreement with other producers about the shared values such transitions may support. Through a secondary analysis of survey data of U.S. beef producers (n = 911) conducted in 2021 by the Trust in Food division of Farm Journal, a corporation that provides content, data, and business insights to the agricultural community (e.g., producers, processors/distributors, and retailers), we investigated what “sustainable beef” means to U.S. beef producers, highlighting the key components and constraints they perceive to achieving desirable sustainability outcomes. Leveraging the three-pillar model of sustainability as a framework for analysis, we identified key themes producers use to define “sustainable beef.” We found that producers collectively viewed sustainability as: (1) multidimensional and interconnected; (2) semi-closed and regenerative; (3) long-lasting; and (4) producer-centered, although an integrated perspective uniting these aspects was rare. We discuss how these perspectives may be the basis for sustainability efforts supported by producers and raise future research considerations toward a shared understanding of what sustainability is and what is needed for enduring sustainability solutions in the U.S. beef industry.

Original languageEnglish
Article number91
JournalDiscover Sustainability
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 14 2024


  • Beef production
  • Cattle industry
  • Sustainability
  • Three-pillar model


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