Naïve attacks on our industry are hard to swallow. It isn’t easy to have consumers perceive that our beef is unsafe when we strive so hard to produce a safe, healthy product. It’s hard to stay poised when activist groups attack and accuse us of being poor caregivers to the cattle we raise. And it is extremely frustrating to hear an acquaintance pledge to stop eating beef in order to save the environment.
As ranchers, we labor to grow a healthy and nutritious product while efficiently using our resources and providing the finest care possible for our cattle. Our romantic history with the land dates back longer than any anti-agriculture trend or activist group, but while our role in this world is just as important as in the past, our numbers have dramatically shrunk. Less than 2% of the population has a story that the other 98% desperately need to hear.
On April 22, we will celebrate the 41st anniversary of Earth Day, a deserving holiday that recharges and encourages us to focus on sustainable living. As ranchers, Earth Day is not only an opportunity to celebrate the daily tasks we do to protect our “workplace,” but it’s also our chance to showcase how “green” we truly are.
Our industry has an impressive story to convey. Today’s beef require less land, water and energy than ever before to produce. Furthermore, just one American farmer produces enough food for 155 people, compared to feeding just 26 people a few decades ago. Specifically looking at the U.S. beef industry, we fulfill 20% of the world’s beef demand, with just 7% of the cattle.
And while we are increasing our efficiency and decreasing our footprint, we are also focusing on improving the land we call home. In fact, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board states that the average beef producer has 13 practices in place to accomplish environmental goals such as soil nutrient management programs, rotational grazing and monitoring and managing wildlife habitat.
In light of the approaching Earth Day, we encourage you to prepare your “elevator speech.” Figure out how to tell your story in the most concise and meaningful way possible and find a reason that consumers should connect with you.
Sources such as explorebeef.org or the the Beef Checkoff and its Masters of Beef Advocacy program provide excellent tools to prepare you to more effectively tell your story. Take some time to commit to memory a few facts like the ones below so that when an occasion presents itself you can correct that unknowing consumer who claims our product is unsafe or not sustainably raised. And then, complement your facts with your own personal story.
Through science-based improvements in breeding and animal nutrition, beef production per cow has increased from about 400 lbs. in the mid-1960s to 637 lbs. in 2008, according to Cattle-Fax industry statistics.
If the beef production practices from 1955 were used today, 165 million more acres of land – an area almost the size of Texas – still could not equal today’s beef production, according to an expert analysis.
According to a report released by the Hudson Institute’s Center For Global Food Issues, pound-for-pound, beef produced in a conventional feeding system generates 40% less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and uses two-thirds less land than beef produced using organic and grass-fed production systems.
EPA studies show that U.S. livestock production accounts for less than 2.4% of total GHG emissions.
85% of U.S. grazing lands are unsuitable for producing crops. By grazing animals on this land, American ranchers more than double the area that can be used to produce food.
- Nearly 90% of U.S. cattle farms and ranches are family-owned and operated, with two-thirds of them having been under the same family ownership for two generations or more.
But remember, no matter how prepared you are, how much information you know and how excellent of a steward you may be, your story doesn’t get told unless you tell it. Send a letter to the editor, post a message on Facebook, write a blog entry, or talk to the person in front of you in the checkout line. The list of possibilities is endless but it’s really not how you do the action that matters; what matters is that you simply act.
BEEF Sustainability Facts
There’s a wealth of materials out there in the digital world to glean from, though they currently take some picking around to find them. That’s why BEEF has developed this ongoing resource page of sites and information. Look through it and use it to glean information in composing your Earth Day message. Check back often, as we’ll be updating the site with new information and sources.
The national beef checkoff is once again gearing up for an Earth Day campaign; find out more at beefboard.org. The checkoff folks will be providing tools for producers to use in order to promote Earth Day activities, including advertisements they can tailor to their own state or operation, customizable letters-to-the-editor, e-mail signature graphics, school outreach ideas, social media tips, fact sheets and environmental stock photos.
In fact, here are some sample graphs drawn mostly from beefboard.org, but also other sources as noted:
- According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 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.
The average beef producer has 13 practices in place to accomplish environmental goals such as soil nutrient management programs, rotational grazing and monitoring and managing wildlife habitat.
About half of the world’s land surface is suitable only for rangeland and not for growing food crops. But rangelands produce significant quantities of grasses, shrubs and forbs that only livestock can utilize. Well-managed grazing of rangelands, grasslands and pastures is the most sustainable form of agriculture known.
U.S. beef producers needed 37 million fewer cattle in 2008 to produce the same amount of meat as in 1975, That is thanks to increased efficiency (more meat per head of cattle) that has led to less waste and less required feed.
The Environmental Protection Agency writes that the entire agriculture sector produces just "6% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions." And EPA data also show that domestic livestock production is only responsible for 2.4%. In any event, blaming meat producers for greenhouse gas output is a silly exercise. If livestock production disappeared tomorrow, we would just be transporting more tofu around, and plowing and fertilizing the land to supply a new vegetarian utopia. There wouldn't be a significant environmental benefit. -- David Martosko, director of research, Center for Consumer Freedom.
America’s beef farmers and ranchers are committed to protecting the environment. Cattlemen and women incorporate a variety of best management practices to ensure the beef industry is in compliance with environmental requirements. For America’s cattle farmers, the land is their livelihood and their legacy. They carefully follow science-based best management practices to protect our country’s natural resources for future generations. In fact, ranchers have led conservation efforts proving that raising cattle and environmental stewardship go hand-in-hand.
Good management of natural resources on farms and ranches across the country isn’t a choice; farmers and ranchers know that protecting the environment now protects the business for future generations.
Farmers and ranchers who raise cattle are doing their part to protect the environment while providing food for a growing planet. Today’s American farmer feeds about 144 people worldwide.
Grazing animals on land not suitable for producing crops more than doubles the land area that can be used to produce food. !
- Cattle serve a valuable role in the ecosystem by converting plants humans cannot consume into a nutrient-dense food. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide. Beef provides the most readily available and easily absorbed source of iron. In fact, just one 3-ounce serving of beef supplies 51% of the Daily Value (DV) for protein, 38% of the DV for zinc and 14% of the DV for iron.
The Cattlemen's Stewardship Review: Connecting Our Vision And Values
The Beef Checkoff Program recently released a one-of-a-kind look into the beef industry with their "The Cattlemen's Stewardship Review." The review details cattlemen's commitment to preserving the environment, raising healthy cattle, providing quality food, enhancing food safety, investing in communities, embracing innovation and creating a sustainable future for generations to come.
This comprehensive review is an excellent tool for ranchers to use as they tell their story. You can find more information about it at www.explorebeef.org. We highlighted some of the take-away points of the 60-page review below.
- Cattlemen have invested $30 million since 1993 in beef-safety efforts and the entire beef industry as a whole invests $550 million annually to beef safety efforts. Due in part to these efforts and others, there has been a significant reduction in foodborne illnesses, including reducing E. coli O157:H7 incidence to help meet the “Healthy People 2010” goal of no more than one case per 100,000 people.
- It is estimated by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) that farmer- and rancher-funded Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) programs influence the handling and management of more than 90 percent of the feedyard cattle raised in the U.S. today.
- Nearly one-half of cattlemen and women volunteer with a youth organization and more than one-third donate their time to other civic organizations, compared to a national average of 7 percent of all Americans.
- Livestock grazing is the primary use of an estimated 587 million acres of permanent grassland, pasture and rangeland. Much of the land grazed is not suitable for growing other food products. By raising cattle, farmers and ranchers more than double the land area that can be used to raise food for a growing population.
- Nearly one-fourth of U.S. cattlemen and women have served in the military, more than the national average of 14 percent, and 94 percent vote in national, state and local elections; comparatively, only 64 percent of the general population votes.
BEEF Daily Blog
BEEF Daily Editor, Amanda Nolz continues to feature the sustainable practices of ranchers in her daily blogs on beefmagazine.com. She is passionate about telling the impressive story of the industry.
She shares these encouraging words with producers, “Always stay positive. Never let the naysayers catch you in a negative light. Stick to what you know best, your personal story. Agriculture has a rich and powerful history of great people working hard each and every day to put food on the dinner table. We are great at what we do, and we need to share that message with consumers. Show them that we care for the animals and are stewards of the land. Show them we care.”
Read more from Amanda in these BEEF Daily blogs: