As eco-anxiety increases amongst consumers, we must share the sound science about how beef production is a critical part of supporting a healthy planet for the future.

Amanda Radke

July 10, 2019

5 Min Read

If you’ve been following the candidates vying for the spot to run as the Democratic candidate in the 2020 presidential election, then you already know one of the biggest topics of conversation on the campaign trail is climate change.

A common theme for these candidates is to discuss how farmers and ranchers can address the growing concern about climate change and how we can best utilize our natural resources to feed a growing planet.

And while I don’t necessarily agree with the strategies presented by some of these candidates, I do believe the sentiment is in the right place. Because really, whether you’re Republican or Democrat or somewhere in between, we all inhabit this planet together. And the future of our environment isn’t a political issue, it’s a humanity issue.

The quote, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children,” comes to mind here.

After all, a rancher doesn’t plant tree seedlings on his land for himself. He plants them to benefit the land and to be enjoyed by his children and grandchildren. He doesn't overgraze today because he knows it will impact his forages for next year. He doesn't take from the land without adding back to it in some way.

All of this to say, how we treat our planet today will impact our tomorrow. I think that’s something we can all agree on.

Related:Green New Deal proposes eliminating “farting cows”

However, the challenge is that there are many opposing ideas on how best to approach climate change and manage our natural resources well.

Plant-based proponents would love for everyone to believe their latest tag line, that plants are the most “sustainable diet” to follow. Yet, science would disagree. Unfortunately, so much of what is being perpetuated in the news is simply not so.

For example, blaming climate change on cow burps is not only ridiculous, but it’s irresponsible and immoral. Every chance I get, until I’m blue in the face, I will continue to promote how cattle are truly upcyclers, utilizing marginal land and efficiently converting it to nutritional, high quality protein and life-enriching beef byproducts, all while fertilizing, aerating and promoting new growth on the land as they graze.

If anything, cattle are truly the Cinderella story of climate change — if only we could get our consumers to hear our story.

And while the naysayers are louder than ever, it seems like common sense isn’t completely eradicated. Here is a roundup of recent headlines that address how cattle are beneficial, not detrimental, to the planet. Read on and pass it along to those who might benefit hearing these messages.

1. “It’s the cars, not the cows” by Paul John Scott for the Star Tribune

Scott writes, “Beef, eggs and dairy are unquestionably superior to the refined carbohydrates and plant oils at the center of the American diet. But after a long run of blaming the butcher, these sorts of inconvenient details about animal foods remain banished, and it’s safe to say most Americans believe it’s healthier to eat less meat.

“You can think of it as our great vegetarian blind spot, and it has left us defenseless to the brassiest escalation yet in the cause against meat, the remarkable assertion that eating meat is bad for the planet. Talk about overplaying your hand. Where eating meat was once bad for a person’s arteries, now we are to do so with the shame that it’s bad for all of life upon Earth.

“The campaign underway to shame the world into giving up animal foods in the name of climate change is pure vegetarian projection, a low-calorie mixture of facts and assumptions. It piggybacks on our anxiety over rising seas, shifting a worthwhile fear of greenhouse gases onto an unfounded fear of meat.”

2. VIDEO: Allan Savory speaks at Groundswell 2019

In his original TED Talk, Savory explains how cattle grazing can reverse desertification. In his most recent video, he talks about how modern agriculture can excel at managing natural resources and providing for a hungry planet, if only the government would let producers do their job.

3. “Farmer’s open letter to skeptical consumers: We know science, glyphosate and GMOs are safe, and we need both to fight climate change” by John Gladigau for Genetic Literacy Project

Gladigau writes, “There are few in rural areas who would argue against the suggestion that the climate is changing. The conjecture is not around this, it is really around whether this change is man-made or not – and if reductions to use of fossil fuels, livestock emissions or taxing industries will have any impact on this.

“What is generally missed in the debate is that agriculture has made huge strides in the past 20-30 years as it has looked to preserve the quality of our soil, minimize emissions and produce high quality food and fiber in an increasingly challenging climate.”

4. “Norman Borlaug: Nobel Prize winning agronomist saved a billion lives and almost banished hunger” by Alexander C. R. Hammond for Genetic Literacy Project

This second article from the Genetic Literacy Project is a good reminder about some of agriculture’s most important and earliest strides in improving productivity to feed the world.

Hammond writes, “Borlaug’s wheat, and the dwarf rice varieties that followed, are credited for ushering in the Green Revolution. After the Indo-Pakistani war, Borlaug spent years working in China and later in life, Africa.

“In 1970, Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his accomplishments. He is only one of seven to have received the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in addition to the Nobel Peace Prize. It is said that he was particularly satisfied when the people of Sonora, Mexico, where he did some of his first experiments, named a street after him.

“Norman Borlaug’s work undeniably changed the world for the better, and in saving approximately 1 billion lives, he truly deserves to be our first Hero of Progress.”

At the end of the day, science is on modern production agriculture’s side. However, conversations about climate change are emotionally-charged.

So the question remains, how do we make our sound science palatable, relatable and easy to understand at a time where consumers are experiencing “eco-anxiety” and changing their dietary choices in an effort to save the planet?

That’s the question we must answer, and our work must continue in connecting with our consumers to discuss how cattle, and modern agriculture, are critical components to a healthy planet.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

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