July 27, 2016
I’m starting to notice a trend with the writers at the Washington Post — they love to bash beef! In 2014, they attacked competitive livestock shows and in 2015, they blamed climate change on cow burps. Earlier this summer, an intern wrote an article titled, “Meat is horrible,” and most recently, they continued their anti-meat crusade by posing the question, “Is reducing meat consumption in the U.S. possible?”
Without a doubt, the Washington Post is relentless in criticizing animal agriculture and perpetuating the notion that meat production is bad for our health, the planet and the animals. Not that I blame them. Sensational headlines and fear mongering drum up more readers, increase page views and satisfy their advertisers, but to what end? Today’s blog is in response to their most recent article urging us to reduce our meat consumption. To which I ask, why do we need to?
While I could easily say the entire article is a waste of ink (err space on the publication’s website), here are a few lines from the piece, which was written by Robert Gebelhoff, that I simply can’t ignore.
WP article: “Humans would be better off if we ate less meat. About a third of greenhouse gas emissions come from the resources needed to farm cows, chickens, pigs and other animals.”
My response: Gebelhoff might need to check his source on his claim about greenhouse gases. The U.S. livestock industry has the smallest carbon footprint per unit of production in the world. According to Frank Mitloehner, an animal science and air quality specialist at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), livestock production accounts for 4.2% of the contribution to all U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG). Of that, beef cattle account for 2.2%, dairy cattle for 1.37%, swine for 0.47% and poultry for 0.8%. Sheep and goats contribute 0.03% and 0.01%, respectively.
Meanwhile, information from the EPA’s Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Emissions and Sinks reveals that the primary contributors of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are the energy sector (31%) and transportation (27%).
WP article: “Not to mention the waste from livestock can have some pretty terrible effects on natural resources and the water supply.”
My response: Waste not, want not. Manure from cattle can be used in the place of commercial fertilizers to add nutrients to a field for growing crops. Manure also fertilizes the rangelands that cattle graze on, which promotes soil and plant health, allowing for a good habitat perfect for wildlife.
What’s more, today’s modern grass-fed, grain-finished beef system generates 51% less manure and 42% fewer carbon emissions compared to what many deem is a more sustainable and healthful beef production system, grass-fed beef. The reduction of carbon emissions and manure generated is because it takes 226 more days for grass-finished cattle to reach market weight than grain-finished cattle, according to livestock sustainability consultant, Jude Capper.
WP article: “Health experts say the U.S. could cut health-care costs by hundreds of billions of dollars if people just stuck to dietary guidelines that recommend less meat consumption.”
My response: Surely, Gebelhoff isn’t suggesting we follow the USDA’s dietary guidelines, which since the 1970s when low-fat, high carbohydrate diets were first introduced, have resulted in the rising obesity epidemic we are seeing in the United States today. If I may be so bold, the dietary guidelines have been the worst human experiment in the last century, and thanks to these recommendations, which are based more on personal bias and politics than strong science and nutritional research, America’s red meat consumption is currently at an all-time low, while coincidentally, we are seeing more people suffering from diabetes and heart disease.
According to Nina Teicholz, author of “The Big Fat Surprise,” “A cut of red meat is one of the most, if not the most, nutrient-dense foods you can eat. By restricting animal foods, it’s quite clear there’s no way the dietary guidelines can meet nutritional sufficiency. They are pushing America toward a plant-based diet, and you can’t get enough nutrients if you’re not eating animal foods.”
WP article: “In large swathes of American society, the idea of reducing meat consumption is probably just as provocative as ending smoking was 60 years ago. Yet tobacco use in the U.S. has fallen significantly, in large part due to experts declaring it bad for society. We can find similar trends for teenage drinking or driving without a seatbelt — they fell thanks to government-led information campaigns, bans, sin taxes and litigation, despite resistance from industry lobbyists and a mistrustful populace.”
My response: Really, Gebelhoff? You’re going to compare smoking cigarettes, teenage drinking and driving without a seatbelt — all activities which are dangerous and oftentimes deadly — to the consumption of a wholesome piece of beef? You’re joking, right? Red meat is a nutritional powerhouse, and I challenge any vegetarian to find me a single food source that can provide the same nutritional benefits that beef offers in one serving.
According to Atli Arnarson, PhD, for Authority Nutrition, “Animal protein contains all eight essential amino acids needed for the growth and maintenance of our bodies. The buildings blocks of proteins, the amino acids, are very important from a health perspective. Meat is one of the most complete dietary sources of protein, the amino acid profile being almost identical to that of our own muscles. Meat is an excellent source of various vitamins and minerals. These include vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, iron, niacin, and vitamin B6.”
Finally, Gebelhoff suggests that we follow in China’s footsteps and have the government force consumers to eat less meat. More regulations and rules on what we can and cannot do? You’ve got to love the idea of big government sitting at your dinner table and determining what you serve your kids for dinner.
He also scoffs at the accusation that the Washington Post has declared a “war on meat,” to which I have to say, it certainly looks like it. This article, and ones of this ilk, are ignorant at best and irresponsible at worst.
Just like the media has been playing foul and choosing favorites in the 2016 presidential election, it seems personal bias is also allowed to run rampant in topics such as food, and beef has been a favorite punching bag for years! We must demand more from our mainstream media outlets — that they research, fact check and provide the news, and if they want to provide commentary, by all means, label it an op-ed or an opinion blog. (By the way, in case there’s any confusion among you vegans about this blog is — it's an opinion piece backed up with facts.)
So, to the Washington Post and every other mainstream news source trying to sway me to think one way or another, I say this to you: Provide just the facts and let me formulate my own opinions about what I eat, who I vote for and how I live my life.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.
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