BIASED ATTACKS ON BEEF INDUSTRY DEBUNKED BY FACTS
Attacks on Beef Industry Debunked by Facts
In the ongoing war being waged on animal agriculture, the beef industry has come under attack from multiple angles. As is typical of anti-agriculture campaigns, the assault on beef production is built on cherry-picked information, partial truths, and outright falsehoods. Of particular focus has been the disinformation propagated about the environmental impact of the beef industry. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the environmental extremist narrative has been embraced and widely disseminated by most of the mainstream media. One such agenda-driven article appeared in The Economist in October 2021. The authors of the article went so far as to claim that beef should be treated like coal in efforts to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs).
The Economist article is comprised of numerous fallacies and errors of logic. First off, it’s important to note that a 2016 EPA report showed that all of agriculture contributes only 9% of greenhouse gas, with the entirety of animal agriculture contributing only 3.9% to total emissions. The article also conveniently fails to acknowledge the entire role of methane in the atmosphere, as well as the natural limitations of the United States’ ability to affect global emission levels, warming patterns, and established patterns of commerce.
The article claims that beef is a more “carbon intensive” food choice since cattle emit methane via their digestive processes, and require large pastures that are “often created by deforestation.” Further, it is stated that “forgoing steaks may be one of the most efficient ways to reduce your carbon footprint,” and later, “fortunately, lab-grown meats are moving from petri dishes to high-end restaurants.” Each of these claims is intentionally misleading, and while they may serve to reaffirm the beliefs of those who already subscribe to the climate and diet cultist way of thinking, a closer and more objective look at the issue tells a much different story.
Air Quality & Animal Science Expert Weighs In
Dr. Frank Mitloehner, is a professor and air quality specialist in cooperative extension in the Department of Animal Science at the University of California Davis (UC Davis), and is widely regarded as an expert in his field. He is also the director of the CLEAR Center – Clarity and Leadership for Environmental Awareness and Research at UC Davis. His articles on https://clear.ucdavis.edu do a great job of dispelling misleading claims like those made by The Economist.
Ruminants Have Been Part of the Environment Forever
Ruminants (animals such as cows, bison, and antelope) have long been a fixture throughout the West. As many as 60 million bison roamed North America in the 1500s, as well as 35 million North American pronghorn (antelope). In other words, the methane-emitting digestive processes of certain types of animals have been part of the environment forever; it’s not new for the beef industry.
Methane and CO2 Are Not the Same – Methane is Removed After 12 Years
The behavior of methane in the atmosphere differs from that of CO2, and therefore affects warming differently. While, as a substance, methane does have more warming potential than CO2, methane only stays in the atmosphere for about 12 years, compared to the hundreds and even thousands of years that CO2 lingers.
After about 12 years, methane is naturally removed by oxidation and is therefore considered to be a short-lived climate pollutant (SLCP).
Methane is Neutral
As methane is being emitted it is also being destroyed in the atmosphere. “What is notable about methane, is that it’s possible the amount being emitted can equal the amount being destroyed. For example, if a herd of cattle emits the same amount of methane over 12 years, they are contributing to warming for those 12 years. But afterward the same amount being emitted is the same that is being destroyed through oxidation, and thus warming is neutral,” Mitloehner writes.
Methane from Cattle is Not the Same as Methane from Fossil Fuels
It’s also important to understand that biogenic methane, like that produced by cattle and other biological sources, differs from methane that comes from fossil fuels. “The critical difference between biogenic methane and a fossil fuel greenhouse gas, is that methane from sources like cattle begin as CO2 that is already in the atmosphere. Gases that result from fossil fuel production begin deep in the earth, where they’ve been stored for millions of years, away from the atmosphere,” writes Mitloehner. In other words, gases from fossil fuels are new to the atmosphere, while biogenic gases have already been continuously recycled in the atmosphere.
Methane’s warming impact isn’t determined by the amount emitted, but rather by how much more or less is being emitted over a period of time. In light of this fact, it’s important to note that the American beef industry produces 20% of the world’s beef with only 6.2% of the cattle.
GHG Emissions Have Declined 11.3% in the US, Since 1961
The United Nations Food and Agriculture’s statistical database shows that the total direct greenhouse gas emissions from livestock in the U.S. have declined 11.3 percent since 1961, even while livestock production has more than doubled. This massive increase in efficiency and decrease in emissions is due to the monumental improvements across the board in American agriculture, from animal husbandry to technology.
Studies have shown that even if everyone in the United States were to give up meat once a week, it would only result in a 0.3 percent decrease in GHG emissions. Further, if Americans were to become 100 percent vegan, it would only make for a 2.6 percent reduction in GHGs.
Regarding Deforestation & Land Use:
The United States has deforested very little land for the sake of raising cattle, and American beef production and consumption really have nothing to do with deforestation that happens in other parts of the world.
On his Twitter account, Mitloehner states, “The argument goes, if Americans eat less beef, U.S. beef producers will turn to exporting more of their product, which will stop cattle producers in other countries from deforesting their homelands… The thing is, Americans are eating less beef and producers are exporting more but we’re still seeing deforestation for grazing in parts of the world. It’s significantly more complicated than saying an American forgoing a burger will protect the Amazon.”
Beef from Brazil is Not the Same as Beef from the United States
In the CLEAR blog, he goes on to explain:
“In reality, Americans have already cut back on consumption, and companies have increased exports. Yet, we still see a country such as Brazil expand its grazing area.
In 1970, Americans consumed about 80 pounds of beef per person, compared to 57 pounds today. And in 1970, the U.S. exported less than 1 percent of its production but over 11 percent in 2018. We continue to see land use change in Brazil, even though U.S. beef consumption has dipped, because the two countries are producing different products, which are serving different markets.
Beef from Brazil is not the same as beef from the U.S., which specializes in producing well-marbled, grain-finished beef. Conversely, Brazilian beef exports tend to be grass-finished, leaner and in general lower-quality products. As a result, these two countries are producing beef for very different consumers – the U.S. is targeting higher-income countries for exports, such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, where demand growth is slower, whereas Brazilian beef is headed to lower-income consumers in countries such as China, Chile, Egypt and Iran, where demand growth is much faster. In short, any potential reductions in U.S. consumption have been swamped by growing demand elsewhere.”
Regarding the Role of Lab-Grown “Meats”:
Cows and People Do Not Eat the Same Food
The Economist states that “it takes 33 plant calories to produce one calorie of beef.” The underlying assumptions are that cattle are consuming plants that could instead be eaten by humans, and also that land used to raise cattle could instead be used to grow crops. This is highly misleading, because in truth, most of what is consumed by cows is inedible by humans. Cows eliminate a great deal of waste from the process of food production from humans. Cattle are also able to consume and utilize forage on lands that cannot be farmed.
Cows and People Do Not Use the Same Land
Mitloehner writes, “In the U.S., nearly two-thirds of all agricultural lands are considered marginal land – meaning that land is unsuitable for growing crops or other uses, but is able to be foraged by ruminants. This mean we can take land, which isn’t suitable for much, and make it useful, turning the forage grown on it into protein people can eat…”
Meat Cells from a Laboratory are Undesirable and Unaffordable
The idea that fake meats can completely replace real meat is naïve at best. Currently, the cost of production for a single pound of lab-grown meat is around $10,000, so in addition to being largely undesirable to lifelong meat eaters, it is also unaffordable for most consumers.
The push for lab-grown meat to become a diet staple is entirely counterintuitive to the widely accepted tenet that highly processed foods are not as healthy as whole foods. For example, ingredients of one fake alternative meat patty include: water, pea protein, canola oil, coconut oil, rice protein, flavoring, methylcellulose, potato starch, apple extract, color, maltodextrin, pomegranate extract, salt, potassium salt, concentrated lemon juice, sunflower lecithin, maize vinegar, and carrot powder.
Also rarely discussed are the needed inputs, other than the original stem cells, to grow the cellular meat. Some of these products can be animal derived (gelatin or collagen), plant derived (cellulose or alginate), and synthetic derived. As the cellular meat grows it has to be supplied with high concentrated nutrients and those products have to be sourced from somewhere. Those concentrated nutrients are not easily created and are still very high in cost.
If reducing overall agricultural greenhouse gas emissions is truly the goal, the sheer amount emitted by the production processes for these ingredients cannot be ignored. Cellular meat seems to be trying to reinvent the wheel when we already have animals that consume raw materials and efficiently convert those materials into high quality protein.
The Economist is Well-Known for Its Promotion of Veganism
All things considered, it’s clear that the attack on beef is, at best, unmerited. At worst, it certainly seems to be maliciously targeted to serve a largely unspoken underlying purpose. This is absolutely the case since the Economist is not an unbiased source of information regarding veganism. A quick google search online will find vegan YouTube Videos, articles, and events promoted by the publication. See below for a small sampling.
YouTube Video – How Could Veganism Change the World – The Economist HERE
Article by LiveKindly titled, “The Economist Give Out Free Vegan Beyond Burgers…” HERE
Article “2019 Will Be the Year of the Vegan” According to the Economist HERE
Article about the Economists vegan hot dog cart in New York City: HERE