Troy Marshall

July 24, 2014

4 Min Read
“New” Study Repackages “Old” Anti-Beef Claims

It doesn’t matter if it’s a lie, just repeat it often enough and people will come to believe it. Sadly, the media and our political system have proven this adage time and time again. Thus, it should be no surprise that anti-meat activists continue to implement this strategy.

This week, a new study was published on the environmental impact of livestock production. In reality, however, “new” isn’t the appropriate word to describe this research as it’s just a repackaging of the pseudo-science and false assumptions that previous studies have cited. This latest report, however, is somewhat unique in that it specifically targets beef production, charging that all the other competitive protein sources are more environmentally friendly.

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The researchers looked at the environmental impact of each calorie consumed of beef, pork, poultry, eggs and dairy. The report states that cattle require 28 times more land, 11 times more irrigation water, release five times more greenhouse gases, and consume six times more nitrogen than the other livestock categories. These numbers are not 100% inaccurate but are misleading due to the fact that cattle have only one offspring each year and the gestation interval is so much longer than the other species. The U.S. beef industry has made tremendous strides in improving efficiency in the amount of resources that go into beef production, but cattle’s maintenance requirements are significantly higher than the competitive protein species.

The land claim is absurd, as we don’t run our animals 100% in confinement settings, nor does the overall industry desire to. Ranchers are rightfully proud of the way they raise their animals and it’s an amazing thing to produce such nutrient-dense, high-quality protein from land that is too marginal to produce food in any other way. These scientists consider the rumen inefficient despite that it allows sunlight to be converted into food in an incredibly effective manner.

The report was like reading verbatim the propaganda that usually emanates from anti-beef groups. To the dismay of cattlemen who work daily with Mother Nature to maintain their production base, the study’s conclusion at every corner is to eliminate beef from the diet. Whether its land use, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, or the goals of biodiversity or species extinction, beef is seen as the primary problem or culprit.

Ranchers work tirelessly to improve efficiency and the environment, but beef is far and away the number-one target of the environmental community. Part of that animosity, if not all, can be understood by looking the land usage charts. Cattle are raised in the most scenic and wildlife-abundant areas of the world. Beef dominates the other proteins in terms of land mass use, and environmentalists want that land out of the hands of private ranchers regardless of the role those ranchers play, and have played, in maintaining wildlife.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising to be painted as the bad guy. After all, we all know how the largest land owner in nearly every community is treated with a unique combination of respect and dislike. They’re too big and too successful to ignore; and they are often considered an enemy by many producers, because they control so much and compete fiercely for more.

Similarly, beef will always be the focal point of the environmental and anti-livestock movement. And their story hasn’t changed, but they keep trying to sell it. Thus, we had better do a better job of telling our story to get the facts out. 

Few dispute that U.S beef production has made great strides in reducing its environment impact in the last decade. And it’s good that groups like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association have been researching the facts and making the case that healthy diets and healthy environments are possible.

Beef has an amazing environmental story to tell. For one thing, we provide the environment for most of the country’s wildlife. And any consumer in the world has only to visit a ranch and hog or poultry production facility to immediately understand which industry is having the most positive impact on the environment. The real question is to decide whether responding with the real scientific facts is the right approach.

Attacking the beef industry for its environmental impact is like attacking the U.S. for its commitment to democracy. Democracy may not be perfect but it has proven to be the best system ever invented by mankind. We have a good story to tell; we just need to make sure it’s understood.

Troy Marshall is a Colorado rancher and regular contributor to BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of or the Penton Farm Progress Group.



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