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Is beef killing the world or saving the world?

December 13, 2019

In honor of the farmer sending some beef cattle to the processor and re-upping our beef inventory this week, I’d like to dispel some myths about beef farming. 

These days, so many people have beef with beef. The general consensus is that by eating beef you are killing the planet. However, that blanket statement is simply not true. 

It’s not about what a farmer’s raising but rather about how the farmer’s raising it.

Listen, conventional beef farming in feedlots is awful - for the animals, for the workers, and for the planet. There’s no arguing that. 

But not all beef farmers are alike. When raising beef cattle sustainably, farmers are actually improving the earth. Dare I say saving the planet.

Let’s take a look at some common myths about beef farming. I’m not going to go into a terrible amount of detail, but I will give you some handy links where you can learn more.

Beef farming produces too much CO2. 

Not true. Well managed cattle are a net carbon sink. That means that sustainable cattle farming practices absorb more carbon than they release. 

Keep in mind that this is only true if the cattle are grazing on perennial pasture and moved to fresh pasture often.

Beef cattle produce too much methane. 

OK I can’t take this one on too strongly. I mean, cows fart. And burp. A lot. We can’t stop it. Their belches are exceptionally powerful. And, cows burp and fart more if they are eating grass

But, let’s put things into perspective here. Beef produces 3.3% of total greenhouse gas emissions, and methane is just one of those gasses. Transportation and electricity account for 56%. Is it fair to say that the methane argument is overstated by plant-based diet advocates?

Beef farming consumes too much water.

Not true. Listen, cows drink a lot of water. That’s a fact. Their feed also requires water to grow. And water is needed for processing, too. 

Grass fed and finished beef use 97% green water, 2% blue water, and 1% grey water. That means that 97% of the water used is naturally occurring rainfall. And, if your cattle are raised sustainably and chemical-free, all water used can return to our water cycle pretty quickly.

Water is needed to produce all food. Beef requires 280 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. A pound of rice requires 410 gallons. Avocados, walnuts, sugar, and many other foods all require more per pound than beef, too. 

Beef needs too much input. We should grow veggies on the land instead.

Let’s get this straight. Not all land can be cropped. 

More than 60% of the land globally and 40% of the land in the US is too rocky, steep, or arid to grow crops. However, it can raise pastured beef!

Moreover, on land that can be used for plants (like our farmer’s), raising 100% grass-fed pastured beef with care increases the fertility and vitality of the soil and ecosystem. 

By contrast, conventional (and conventional organic) methods of growing crops like soy or corn or wheat or basically anything can deplete the land. It can create dead soil, erosion, chemical contamination, minimizes wildlife, and so on.

So, will beef save the world? Well, maybe some beef farmers can. Can beef kill the world? Well, maybe some beef farmers can.

The ideal way to raise beef cattle needs to be on a farm by farm basis. What works in some areas may not work in others. But we know that farming needs to change to create a better food system and a better environment. 

And I’m not even going to mention the health benefits from eating beef. That’s a whole series of news articles!

Marie Reedell

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