American livestock experts say it is crucial the agriculture industry rebrands beef to better reflect its health and environmental benefits if it is to overcome pressures from plant-based diets and carbon footprint activists.
Educating consumers that beef is a health food rather than a health hazard with the potential to produce global cooling rather than global warming were among their key recommendations.
Rapid population growth expectations in coming decades mean beef production may need to lift two thirds by 2050 to meet demand, but it won't be easy.
American forage agronomist Dr Peter Ballerstedt and Alltech ruminant research group director Dr Vaughn Holder both agreed that beef needed to be available in decades to come and presenting factual messages was a key ingredient.
Dr Ballerstedt spoke of the need to publicise the connection between ruminant animal agriculture and metabolic human health, suggesting beef could even be rebranded as a fermented plant product.
He believed people needed to understand that beef was a health food, grazing animals were essential to grassland health and forage systems were part of crop systems.
"The simple fact is that we can't feed today's world without ruminant animal agriculture, and unless we improve the productivity and efficiency globally of our ruminant animal agriculture systems, we won't meet the needs of 2050," he said.
"There's growing understanding and interest in this broad topic called soil health, but helping the public understand the limiting nature of our agricultural soils and how we must be good stewards of them, not just in North America, but globally.
"And health is one of those things that cuts across all the tribes. It's of interest to all of us."
He said about 96 per cent of the feed that the ruminant herd globally consumed was not suitable for human consumption but the resource could be up cycled in the highest value food for human consumption.
"The simple truth is, the vast majority of the Earth's surface is not suitable for cultivation, the production of those crop for human consumption," he said.
"And yet, at the same time, we've got almost six times the land that's in range land or forest land where we could have some form of ruminant animal agriculture system producing high-quality animal-source foods for human consumption."
The greenhouse gas emission argument was often the biggest rebuttal to growing livestock production.
But Dr Ballerstedt said agricultural wasn't the only industry that had an environmental footprint.
Studies had suggested that if the average American type two diabetic could eliminate their medication use, they'd reduce their carbon footprint by 29 per cent more than if they switched to a vegan diet.
'Beef is part of global warming solution'
Alltech ruminant research group director Dr Vaughn Holder agreed that beef often received negative press around emissions but ruminant agriculture actually had the potential to produce global cooling rather global warming.
Greenhouse gas emission debates often compared the fossil fuel industry with natural organisms like cattle but science showed the two were very different.
Dr Holder said the beef industry had the ability to remove the rate of production of methane in the environment and therefore reduce its carbon footprint.
"It's only when CO2 emissions reach zero that we actually have a flattening of the warming potential of the CO2," Dr Holder said.
"Whereas when you reduce emissions from methane, you immediately get a reduction in warming potential or alternatively called cooling potential. If we can go in and go after methane and cattle, we have the potential to cause global cooling rather than global warming."
Livestock studies showed a focus on feed efficiency within operations was already having a positive impact and the intensity of emissions per unit of product had reduced 32 per cent since 1961.
"If we could bring the efficiency of production of beef across the world to the same level that it is at in developed countries, we would actually reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of those systems by 45 per cent and still produce the same amount of beef," he said.
Simple nutritional changes like replacing trace minerals with organic mineral preparations have increased weaning weights by 9.5 kilograms and lifted fertility to 95 per cent.
That higher weaning weight reduced the carbon footprint per unit of product by 2.7per cent while the improvement in fertility could reduce the carbon footprint by 2 per cent and 0.2 per cent by changing the age at first calving.
The same could be seen with other feed efficiency products to boost carcase weight and nitrogen supplements.
Reducing an animal's carbon footprint by just 2.2 per cent across a 1000 head herd had the same impact as removing 73 cars from the road, 134 transatlantic flights tickets taken off the map or 75 houses' use of electricity.
Dr Holder said the industry needed to look at feed efficiency interventions from a carbon footprint standpoint.
"And perhaps most important, starting to market ourselves that way because we have been using technologies not just in feed technologies but management and efficiencies for the past 30 years that have dramatically reduced the carbon footprint and dramatically improved the feed efficiency of our operations," he said.
"We should be owning that because that's something that we can all be proud of."