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NPR Suggests Cattle Degrade The Environment

I was disappointed to read Eliza Barclay’s article, “How Your Love Of Burgers May Be Helping To Drive Wildlife Extinct,” which appeared in NPR’s The Salt recently. The article suggests that meat lovers are the real reason the environment is in such desperate shape.

"We need to see a drastic reduction in meat consumption to protect land, water and wildlife," Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director for the Center for Biological Diversity, is quoted as saying in the article.

Feldstein blames cattle grazing on the decline of bears and wolves, as well as prairie dogs and elk. She must not have talked to anyone in Idaho or Minnesota/Wisconsin about declining wolf populations.


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According to the article, “Grazing destroys vegetation and damages soils and stream banks. And if you think grass-fed beef is a more ‘sustainable’ choice, think again. Grazing cattle on grass has more negative impacts on the land than any other land use, the group says. Instead, we could replace meat with plants, even one day a week. Meatless Monday, perhaps?”

If I had the chance to visit with these folks who dream of a utopic world untouched by humans, I would explain to them that grazing is not only beneficial for the land but it promotes a healthy wildlife habitat as well.

Vast herds of unencumbered bison roamed and grazed America’s Great Plains for centuries, and modern cattle grazing mimics that nomadic behavior. Just as bison did, cattle aerate and fertilize the soil with their hooves, which promotes moisture retention and new growth of grass. They also convert the forage located on land that is unsuited to crop production into tasty and nutritional beef.

According to, there are several benefits to beef cattle production including:

1. Reducing the risk of wildfires.

“Grazing cattle can minimize the invasion of non-native plant species and minimize the risk of wildfires by decreasing the amount of flammable material on the land. Approximately 85% of U.S. grazing lands are unsuitable for producing crops. Grazing animals on this land more than doubles the area that can be used to produce food. Cattle serve a valuable role in the ecosystem by converting the forages humans cannot consume into a nutrient-dense food.”

2. Enriching the lives of wildlife.

“A combination of livestock and wildlife management on grazing lands has resulted in better species survival than when these activities are practiced separately. In the Eastern and Central United States, wildlife is almost entirely dependent on ranch, farm and other private lands; so, ranchers play an important role in the survival of native species.

3. Reducing our global footprint.

"Beef producers are experienced in using Best Management Practices (BMPs) to maintain air quality surrounding their operations. In addition, animal agriculture contributes minimally to the production of total greenhouse gasses. According to the EPA, the entire U.S. agricultural sector accounts for only 6.4% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and livestock production is only a portion of that total.”

These are excellent points with which to refute Barclay’s opinion piece on cattle and the environment, which is just that – opinion. To suggest that skipping a burger will save the planet is simply naïve and reckless. There are many other ways to reduce our carbon footprint, and going meatless is not one of them. What do you think about the article? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


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