In the last couple of weeks, you may have noticed a theme to my blog posts. The topics have largely centered around meat production and the environment, namely because there have been so many recent headlines that have compelled me to respond and negate the falsehoods that continue to be repeated about our industry.
In case you’ve missed the posts, here are just a few that have addressed this topic:
Personally, I think blaming cattle is a cop out. The idea that ditching the cheeseburgers to save the planet gives folks a free pass not to consider their energy use, the vehicles they drive, the single-use plastics they consume and the waste they produce in every aspect of their lives.
A reader recently shared with me a letter to the editor of his local paper, Wilson County News in Floresville, Texas. Once again, beef is on the chopping block. Take a read.
Global warming bites back
With scorching heat and raging wildfires in the West and torrential downpours and massive flooding in the East, global warming is not just about a gentle sea rise anymore. These tragic consequences of dumping greenhouse gases into our atmosphere call for drastic remedies.
For starters, we should re-join the Paris Climate Accords and actually become a world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One of the most effective ways is by changing our diet.
Yes, that. Last fall, Oxford University’s prestigious Food Climate Research Network concluded that solving the global warming catastrophe requires massive shift to a plant-based diet. A 2010 United Nations report blamed animal agriculture for 19% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), 70% of freshwater use, and 38% of land use.
Carbon dioxide is emitted by burning forests to create animal pastures and by transporting animals. The more damaging methane and nitrous oxide are released from digestive tracts of cattle and from animal waste cesspools, respectively.
In an environmentally sustainable world, we must replace meat and dairy products in our diet with vegetables, fruits, and grains, just as we replace fossil fuels by wind, solar, and other pollution-free energy sources.
Let’s start with our next supermarket visit.
In an email exchange, the reader asked me to put together a response to this letter to the editor. I’ve written my response below and sent it to this individual to submit to his local paper. Here are my thoughts on Chirrachi’s assertions about beef and climate change.
Cattle play an important role in environmental conservation
I read Wes Chirrachi’s recent letter to the editor, which implied that beef production is to blame for raging forest fires, and I was troubled by his suggestion that we should ditch meat and dairy products from our diets to positively impact the environment.
In his assertions, Chirrachi references a U.N. report that erroneously says animal agriculture contributes 19% of GHG, and this data has been proven to be wildly inaccurate by multiple sources.
In contrast, a 2015 EPA report evaluating GHG shows that beef cattle production was responsible for just 1.9% of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2013. By comparison, GHG emissions from transportation and electricity accounted for 25.8% and 30.6% of total U.S. GHG emissions in the same year.
Additionally, we cannot ignore the value of beef in our diets. It’s a nutrient-rich food that provides far more energy than broccoli and bread can.
Consider this. A recent study conducted at Texas A&M University evaluated the human-edible protein conversion efficiencies of beef cattle by calculating the forages consumed, methane produced and the resulting net protein available for human consumption. The results of this research showed that our nation’s beef production system is a net contributor to the human protein supply and a more efficient converter than non-ruminant systems.
Essentially, this means if we took the non-tillable, rough terrains that cattle typically graze and tried to convert this land to fields where we could grow fruits, vegetables and grains, we would yield less food using far more natural resources.
As for the wildfires, the reality is that cattle grazing, as well as other industries like timber, are an important part in balancing the delicate eco-systems of forests and grazing lands. When cattle graze, they consume the tall grass and subsequently reduce the spread of wildfire because there is less dry, dead grass ready to consume flames.
While environmentalists love to push the idea that leaving the land alone is the best way to protect it, ranchers know that proper grazing (and logging) helps to keep these grasslands and forests healthy and strong.
I share Chirrachi’s goals of protecting our natural resources; however, giving up burgers will not move the needle in the right direction. A salad is not a guilt-free meal; it takes plenty of water and land to produce all foods, and despite the rhetoric, I believe the best nutritional bang for your environmental buck is with beef.
Without question, cattle grazing plays an important role in effectively utilizing and conserving our natural resources.
If you want to help the planet, let’s work together to do it! We can begin by ignoring the hype about beef and instead taking a hard, honest look at our transportation use and energy consumption.
What would you add to the letter? Did I miss any points that need addressing? Let me know in the comments section below.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.