Of the many terms attached to our burgers and steaks, “sustainable” and “grass-fed” often sit next to each other. But a new study finds that raising livestock on grassy pastures is far from sustainable and doesn’t have the climate benefits proponents have claimed.
“Can we eat our way out of the climate problem by eating more grass-fed beef?” Tara Garnett, of the Food Climate Research Network at Oxford University in the UK, and her colleagues asked. The answer, they found, is no.
Eating grass-fed beef doesn’t get climate-conscious carnivores off the hook.
Hundreds of livestock ranchers in the drought-stricken U.S. Northern Plains are embracing what organizers say is the first lottery designed to provide some much-needed relief to their operations.
The prize? Tons and tons of hay.
Ranchers in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana have been suffering through the region’s worst drought in 30 years, which has withered grazing fields, causing a severe spike in the cost of hay to feed their animals.
While the ranchers search for affordable hay, some have been selling off cattle they cannot afford to feed. If the drought persists, cattle and beef prices will rise, livestock economists said.
While I thoroughly enjoyed and agreed with much of the contents of Defending Beef; The Case for Sustainable Meat Production, in the back of my mind there was the niggling thought that the author, Nicolette Hahn Niman, is married to Bill Niman—the owner of Niman Ranch, which is highly revered for its quality grass fed beef. This fact alone calls in to question her credibility and argument because it raises the question of her motive. She does, of course, address this obvious conflict by stating that she is a vegetarian and a lifelong environmentalist. These points do assuage my fears somewhat—I am also a vegetarian and environmentalist—however, it stills leaves traces of distrust as she is directly promoting her husband’s business regardless of whether her motives are pure.
Irrespective of my general suspicions, I thought this book had a solid argument. It was loaded with statistics and technical information yet written in colloquial language for an easy read, especially for people who are interested in this ongoing debate yet aren’t looking for a highly academic and scientific read but want the nitty gritty details of the argument. She breaks the book down into three distinct categories; Cattle: Environment and Culture, Beef: Food & Health, and Critique & Final Analysis.
I couldn’t agree more with the argument she makes in the first chapter that we need to change our industrial form of food production to a more ethical, holistic approach. One which does not separate a symbiotic ecosystem into separate systems thus creating un-manageable environmental and health problems. She discusses how we’ve taken animal husbandry off the family farm where the animal manure was the ecosystem’s fertilizer onto large-scale factory farms that now have ponds full of toxic liquid manure.
In this first section, she also discusses the impact cattle have on the environment. She bravely contests the popularly held believe voiced by many environmentalist that beef is detrimental to the environment, stating that what it really comes down to is properly managed cattle. She is against cutting down vast untouched areas to increase our cattle production. Instead, she suggests that society can use swaths of land that are arid and unsuitable for crops as grassing areas for these animals.
She relies heavily on the workings of a soil management guru, Allan Savory, who has had great success using cattle to improve the health of environment. He argues that certain geographical locations that we consider ‘healthy’ actually aren’t at all and need large animals to regenerate the soil.
In the second portion of the book, she moves on to discuss the human health effects of grass fed beef arguing that this type of beef, hormone and antibiotic free, is good for us as it has protein that you can’t get in any other type of food. This again raises the issue of her being a vegetarian; I would like to know whether she thinks that she would be healthier if she ate meat and why it is that she hasn’t gone back to eating meat when she argues that it is good for one’s health. Is that not the cardinal rule? Practice what you preach?
The final section ends with a general analysis and critique of the other arguments out there against meat. Returning once more to my underlying suspicions, as stated she cited a ton of studies but did not clearly discuss who funded the studies, which is a crucial aspect of transparency since the source of funding will have an impact on the outcome of the study
How does one know who to trust on what is good for our health? Her argument intuitively makes sense: that otherwise unused plots of land not suitable for food cultivation be used for well-managed cattle rearing because they improve the soil with their manure. She argues that not only is this way of managing cattle healthy for the environment, but that beef is healthy for human beings to eat. There are also many arguments against fully against eating meat, even grass fed ethically raised animals such as cows. As a health conscious person who has been raised vegetarian and eating organic food, I find it difficult to choose a side of this argument. I find myself, despite my above mentioned suspicions, drawn to the argument she lays down because it makes sense to me. It also helps that she is vegetarian and a lifelong environmental activist. Another point of her argument that hits home with me is that she is thinking in terms of the whole ecosystem’s health (inclusive of humanity’s health) which to me is crucial. We can’t remove pieces of the puzzle and attempt to solve it that way. Today’s conundrum of climate change and population growth requires this whole systems approach. But once again, how does one reconcile these opposing views with such legitimate numbers to back up their arguments?
Maeve McInnis just graduate with her Masters of Science in Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management with a specialization in Food Policy from the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at the New School. She was the President of the Sustainable Cities Club and a member of the Student Advisory Committee with the Dean. She is an avid traveler and lover of food, culture and social justice.
For such a peaceful, dewy-eyed creature, the cow sure can whip up a bale-ful of confusion, controversy, and passion. Some of us want to eat beef, and we point to scientific studies proving this is a good idea; others just as vehemently don’t want to eat beef, and point to research of their own. Opinions on this matter tend to be loud and fiery. This can be especially difficult for thoughtful people like yourself, who understand the benefits of a largely plant-based diet but also indulge in carnivorousness from time to time. I won’t beat around the bush here: The best practices for beef-eating are far from clear. But let’s talk it out, shall we?
But if Russians need beef, why not just raise more cows? Hell, why not build a better cow?
According to state-run newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, that’s exactly what breeders in the southern Russian republic of Kalmykia have done.
Dubbed the “anti-crisis” cow, the new breed can allegedly survive for long stretches of time without eating, “much like the camels that have long roamed the steppes of Kalmykia,” according to the Moscow Times.
With both beef and dairy farming on the decline in France—in 2012, beef production fell by 5.5 percent as compared to the year before, and between 2000 and 2010, over one third of dairy farms closed—it has become more difficult for farmers to find local, suitable mates for their heifers. But thanks to the wonders of the internet, it’s not just vegans, tattoo lovers, and gamersthat have their own dedicated dating sites; now French bulls and cows have one, too.
Last October, during France’s annual Farming Summit, a group of cow breeding associations debuted trouverlebontaureau.com, or “find the right bull” in English. The homepage’s fairly clean (er, primitive) layout greets you with thumbnails of muscular, studly bulls with names like Hilius, Erobos, and Fenrir, all standing stolidly in French fields of varying degrees of verdancy and hilliness.
Meatpacking giant Tyson recently grabbed headlines when it announced it would no longer buy and slaughter cows treated with a growth-enhancing drug called Zilmax, made by pharma behemoth Merck. Tyson made the move based on “animal well-being” concerns, it told its cattle suppliers in a letter, adding that “there have been recent instances of cattle delivered for processing that have difficulty walking or are unable to move.” According to the Wall Street journal, Zilmax (active ingredient: zilpaterol hydrochloride) and similar growth promotors are banned in the European Union, China, and Russia.
Of all the possible consequences of the U.S. budget sequestration that popped up in the media before Friday’s deadline, few provoked as much fear and loathing (at least on the HuffPost Food team) as the threat of a meat industry shutdown.
New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman joined Chris Hayes’s MSNBC political show Up with Chris Hayes today to discuss the politics of “pink slime,” or, “lean, finely textured beef,” as the beef industry would prefer it be called. Backlash against the substance in popular media has led at least one conservative governor to call for a congressional investigation into what he calls a “smear campaign.” Watch the segment here.