Beef, Food Choices, and Values

Identifying ways to shift the consumption of beef in the United States in order to support planetary and human health

Beef Choices and ethics tool

The Beef Choices and Ethics Tool is an aid for ethically assessing policies and interventions intended to reduce beef consumption in the United States. It can be used to assess a wide range of policies and interventions, including: governmental laws, public policies and regulations; institutional policies and programs; and initiatives by non-profit organizations.

The Challenge

Beef has negative impacts on human health and the environment. Red meat – especially processed red meat – is linked to increases in non-communicable diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease. Raising cattle and producing beef products has a larger negative effect on the environment than other foods that come from animals.

The demand for beef is likely to increase dramatically – by up to 95% – as the global population increases and incomes rise around the world. To meet this demand, cattle production will have to increase from 1.5 billion cattle to over 2.6 billion. Rising demand and increased production will create more challenges for human health and environmental sustainability.

Project Overview

This project examined how shifts in beef consumption and production can deal with these challenges in the United States. We aimed to identify ethically acceptable ways to shift beef production and consumption that improve human and environmental health.

Beef production and consumption have many positive associations for people and their communities. Many people like the taste of beef, and eating beef also has cultural and social value. For ranchers and their communities, beef is economically important. Raising cattle is also at the heart of some people’s cultural identity and way of life.

Beef contributes to health and environmental problems, but people like to eat it for many reasons. With this in mind, are there ethically acceptable ways to shift beef consumption and production in the United States?

Project Aims

  1. Identify the values, trade-offs, and trigger points for potential shifts in beef production and consumption practices
  2. Identify the relevant considerations and trade-offs of different policies and interventions to alter beef production and consumption practices
  3. Develop a framework to evaluate the ethical permissibility of different interventions to achieve shifts in beef production and consumption patterns

Project Team

Dr. Jessica Fanzo led the Beef, Food Choices, and Values team, bringing together experts from a wide range of disciplines. Drs. Elizabeth Fox and Shauna Downs led the team’s empirical research efforts. Drs. Anne Barnhill and Travis Rieder headed the group’s ethical analyses. Colleagues at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia oversaw the team’s modelling work.


Fox, E. L., Davis, C., Downs, S. M., McLaren, R., & Fanzo, J. (2021). A focused ethnographic study on the role of health and sustainability in food choice decisionsAppetite, 105319.