It’s hard to ignore an article titled, “Meat is horrible.” Written by Rachel Premack for The Washington Post, the op-ed opens with the line, “It may be delicious, but the evidence is accumulating that meat, particularly red meat, is just a disaster for the environment — and not so great for human beings, too.”
The article is riddled with so much bias and so many inaccuracies, it’s hard to know where to begin; however, instead of tearing it apart line by line, I thought it might be more beneficial to compile factual information about beef production and the environment.
Here are four facts about red meat production, the environment & the sustainability of eating meat:
1. Calorie-for-calorie, beef trumps broccoli
Premack suggests that it takes 48 times as many liters of water to produce the same amount of beef as vegetables. Not taking into account that the beef numbers include everything from what the cattle drink, the water needed to grow the crops they eat, the transportation to the packing plant, the water required during processing, and even the water lost during cooking, beef packs more nutritional punch than vegetables ever could.
Look at it this way, one cup of broccoli contains 31 calories, and you would have to eat more than three cups of broccoli to get 11.1 grams of protein. A 3-oz. serving of beef provides 25 grams of protein and 180 calories. Active individuals, pregnant women and growing teens are encouraged to get 75-80 grams of protein per day, which would mean you would have to eat 24 cups of broccoli to reach that 80 grams of recommended protein vs. 9-10 oz. of protein to reach protein recommendations.
2. Beef production is more sustainable today than ever before
The article insinuates that red meat isn’t a sustainable food for a healthy planet.
According to a checkoff-funded lifecycle assessment, “From 2005 to 2011, the beef industry achieved a 3% reduction in water use. The assessment also revealed that beef made great strides in several environmental areas including a 10% improvement in water quality, 7% reduction in landfill contributions, 2% reduction in resource consumption and energy use, and 2% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”
Steve Kay writes for BEEF, “Approximately 410 billion gallons of water are used in the U.S. every day, with nearly half used for production of electrical power or thermoelectric power generation. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the average American uses about 100 gallons of water daily. Activities such as taking a bath requires up to 70 gallons of water. A five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons. A running toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water daily. More than 713 gallons of water go into the production of one cotton T-shirt. The New York City water supply system leaks 36 million gallons per day. It takes 39,090 gallons of water to manufacture a new car. At one drip per second, a faucet can leak 3,000 gallons per year.”
3. U.S. beef production only contributes 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions
The article suggests that eliminating beef from the diet could significantly reduce our carbon footprint.
According to an article written by Daren Williams, NCBA senior executive director of communications, “In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) published a study entitled ‘Livestock’s long shadow’ which stated in the executive summary that global livestock production is “responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions’ … ‘a higher share than transport.’ This statement led to media headlines claiming cows generate more greenhouse gases than cars.
“However, that comparison was later recanted by one of the report’s authors, Pierre Gerber, after a review of the study funded by the Beef Checkoff pointed out that the UN report compared every possible source of GHG emissions from livestock while only counting emissions from tailpipes for transportation (excluding other sources such as drilling for and refining oil, smelting steel, manufacturing vehicles, etc.).
“A subsequent UNFAO 2013 publication, ‘Tackling climate change through livestock,’ reported that GHG emissions from global livestock production had dropped to 14.5% (still much larger than the U.S. at 3% but improving nonetheless). This report concluded that further reductions by as much as 30% could be achieved through improvements in animal health and feed efficiency -- two areas in which U.S. producers excel. The U.S. beef industry has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world due to cattle genetics, the quality of cattle feeds, animal management techniques, and the use of technology.
READ: “World Resources Institute “Shifting Diets” fails to recognize differences in production” by Daren Williams for Beef Issues Quarterly
4. A meat tax would further limit consumer access to healthy animal proteins
Premack suggests that a meat tax would reduce consumption and therefore decrease health costs; however, despite the rhetoric, research shows that including animal proteins and fats in the diet can be highly beneficial in avoiding obesity-related problems such as heart disease and diabetes.
In fact, a study which appeared in the Journal of Nutrition found that increasing your daily intake of protein-rich foods that contain certain amino acids reduces the risk of heart disease as much as giving up smoking. Specifically, researchers found that eating a 75-gram portion of steak was effective in reducing arterial stiffness.
PLUS, Check Out: 7 ways Dr. Oz & the media are lying to you about red meat
There are currently 721 comments on this article with folks on both sides of the discussion weighing in. Feel free to use some of the above talking points to compile your own response to this editorial piece. Let’s demand that sources like The Washington Post do better to produce factual articles instead of biased headline-grabbing reporting.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.
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