The 43rd annual observance of Earth Day is April 22, a day on which Americans traditionally focus on the environment. It’s also a day on which certain elements will criticize beef production despite the evidence to the contrary.
Environmental activists love to charge that beef production is wasteful and harmful to the environment. It’s a false charge largely fueled by a United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization report entitled, “Livestock’s Long Shadow.” That 2006 report grandly pronounced that livestock production accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The U.S. beef industry has been working to shake loose this false claim ever since, swimming upstream against the constant repetition of these UN findings by consumer media. Perhaps as an offshoot of that onslaught, the U.S. is experiencing a surge in schools, and even cities (San Francisco), that are adopting Meatless Mondays as a weekly routine.
I’ve always found this a little incongruous. After all, these campaigns tend to be celebrated by entertainment and political figures like Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand, Al Gore and Prince Charles, glaring examples of the most consumptive of lifestyles. While they exhort the rest of us to live smaller, they live in extravagance and move around in private limousines, jets and yachts.
But Americans in general like comfort. We drive roomy, comfy SUVs; we live, or aspire to live, in large, sprawling homes; and we like our toys, gadgets and trips.
So while many of us aren’t willing to give up our luxuries, more and more of us are willing to make token gestures like giving up burgers one day/week. The intent, of course, is to help the planet, which I support, but I think the gesture is mostly a painless way to alleviate the guilt of a consumptive lifestyle.
Beef checkoff funds recently funded an analysis of “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” and discovered that the numbers were bunk. For instance, the report’s estimate of livestock’s contribution to GHG emissions (18%) is a global estimate; the entire U.S. agriculture sector accounts for only 6% of annual GHG emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Meanwhile, livestock production only accounts for 2.8% of total U.S. emissions. More specifically, methane from livestock accounts for only 2.6% of total U.S. GHG emissions.
So, as Earth Day draws near, it’s important to remind folks that it’s not only okay to consume beef every day of the week, but it’s actually more healthy for the planet. At explore beef.org, you’ll find a list entitled, “40 Ways Cattle Ranchers and Farmers Help the Environment.” This list includes everything from rotational grazing, to planting cover crops, to providing habitat for wildlife, to controlling noxious weeds.
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Beef production in the U.S. today is more efficient and earth-friendly that at any time in history. Peer-reviewed research by Washington State University’s Jude Capper, for instance, illustrates that without productivity-enhancing technologies used by U.S. beef producers, producing the same amount of beef would require:
- 10 million more beef cattle,
- 17 million more acres of land for grazing and growing feed,
- 81 million more tons of cattle feed, and
- 138 billion more gals. of water.
The result would be that, in the U.S. alone, 18 million more metric tons of CO2 equivalent would be released into the atmosphere, and 16.9 million acres of forests would need to be destroyed in other countries to maintain global beef production, as U.S beef supply would decrease 17%.
While Americans observe and refocus their environmental conscience on April 22, most will be largely unaware that Earth Day is a 365-day observance for a rancher. We are the true stewards of the land, and we were “green” way before green was cool. And we need to make our fellow Americans aware of that.
Amanda Radke is a South Dakota rancher and editor/blogger of BEEF Daily.
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