My View From The Country

“New” Study Repackages “Old” Anti-Beef Claims

A new environmental report specifically attacks beef production.

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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Discuss this Blog Entry 5

Jake Geis (not verified)
on Jul 26, 2014

Well put Troy. One additional thought on the land use issue from the western corn belt. The majority of our pastures could be converted to farmland, given the right tillage practices. Any wildlife expert (I'm talking state level Game, Fish and Parks experts, not armchair experts in animal rights groups) will tell you that a section of corn will not support the wildlife a section of pasture will.

If we were to take this "study" at face value, the remaining pasture in the western corn belt should be torn up, planted, and have a hog confinement slapped up. It would be a "better" use of the land. Of course, it would also be the end of the last bits of native Tallgrass Prairie flora and fauna that eek out a living in our pastures.

These studies are short-sighted. They fail to account for the fact that if they do change our agriculture system, there will be changes that landowners will be forced to make in order to earn a living. Cattle grazing is the only way to ensure prairie habitat survival, without it they condemn many species to extinction.

Steve Clubine (not verified)
on Jul 26, 2014

Grazed native prairie is critical to many indigenous grassland species, particularly in the plains except where, like in the eastern historic tallgrass regions, introduced grasses and intensive grazing systems have replaced the native and wildlife friendly forages. No cropland, idle grass, nor magic grazing system is better than well-managed, moderately grazed grassland for wildlife, water, soil, or air. Could lands be better managed, of course and hopefully producers will continue to do better. Eliminating them is not the solution.

CalfDoc (not verified)
on Jul 30, 2014

One thing we have to realize is this is not about the environment. This is not about being sustainable, green or any of the other phrases of the day. The beef industry will never do enough to make these groups happy. This is about eliminating the livestock industry and private property rights.

Keith Evans (not verified)
on Jul 30, 2014

Responding to this kind of nonsense is a waste of time. It will be ignored.

Beef has two great consumer benefits. It tastes great and it offers more nutritional benefits per ounce than any other meat, maybe any other food.

A nutritional breakdown of beef versus turkey, for example, would be enlightening to consumers, and make the price difference between the two appear much smaller.

Any advertiser worth his or her salt, knows that it is wasteful to keep responding to negative accusations. Instead define product benefits, and then aggressively sell them.

Keith Evans

Jerry K (not verified)
on Jul 30, 2014

Someone should use those formulas to determine such costs of production for worms, ants, and cockroaches. Just so we have THAT end of food alternatives for comparison. I'll stick with beef.

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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