• North America accounts for more than one-quarter of the world's beef supply. Production per animal is highly efficient, particularly in the United States and Canada, but aspects of the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of the system need critical review. • Production units, especially concentrated systems like feedlots, face substantial regulatory pressure related to air and water quality, food safety issues, and animal welfare/animal rights issues. These pressures will increase in the future, as will concerns about effects of beef production on greenhouse gas emissions. • Public concerns for food safety will focus greater attention on animal traceability and liability associated with foodborne pathogens. Animal rights activism and consumer perceptions about "factory farming" production methods will challenge the use of concentrated feeding operations and pharmacological technologies in North American beef production systems. • Animal protein sources should play an important role in meeting global food demands, but to benefit from this demand, North American beef producers must produce safe, wholesome products, while placing greater emphasis on environmentally sound practices that maintain the highest standards for animal well-being.