Elimination/Reduction of Beef in your diet remains among the most potent personal choices you can make to help preserve our natural world

Hamburgers are the Hummers of Food in Global Warming: ScientistsCommonDreams.org

Buying local meat and produce will not have nearly the same effect, he cautioned.

That’s because only five percent of the emissions related to food come from transporting food to market.

“You can have a much bigger impact by shifting just one day a week from meat and dairy to anything else than going local every day of the year,” Weber said.

memo-wb

The facts : Livestock production …

  • is the largest land use in the western United States
  • Ranching in the West is the principle source of conflict resulting in tax-payer dollars spent to kill wolves, buffalo, coyotes, prairie dogs, and other wildlife [1]
  • is the most significant cause of non-point source water pollution [2]
  • is the most prominent factor resulting in wildlife imperilment/loss of biodiversity/listed species in the West [3]
  • is the most robust contributor to desertification of landscapes in North America [4]

Contrary to popular belief, grass-fed beef is worse for the atmosphere than corn/grain fed beef:

Many environmentalists have argued that finishing up the fattening of beef cattle on corn is worse for the environment than cattle that are raised solely on pasture grass. Pelletier says his team’s analysis finds that at least from a climate perspective, the opposite is true. “We do see significant differences in the GHG intensities [of grass vs grain finishing]. It’s roughly on the order of 50 percent higher in grass-finished systems.”

And their emission is just part of the story – when allowed to function properly our public lands serve as carbon sinks

********

[1] War on Wildlife: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Wildlife Services” – A Report to President Barack Obama and Congress. Wendy Keefover-Ring, WildEarth Guardians (February 2009). Download (108-page pdf)

[2] Preliminary Summary of Findings: Western States Water Council’s Nonpoint Source Pollution Survey I-B-2, in Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Workshop  — Technical Issues (July 25-28, 1989).

[3] (a)  Sierra Club Grazing Committee :

In the United States, livestock grazing has contributed to the listing of 22 percent of federal threatened and endangered species—almost equal to logging (12 percent) and mining (11 percent) combined. No other human activity in the West is as responsible for the decline or loss of species as is livestock production.

(b) Curtis H Flather, Linda A Joyce, & Carol A Bloomgarden, Species Endangerment Patterns in the United States, Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-241 22-23 (1994)

(c) R.D. Ohmart & B.W. Anderson, Riparian Habitat, in Inventory and Monitoring Wildlife Habitat 169-99, (B.S. Cooperrider ed. 1986)

[4] (a) Desertification Alters Regional Ecosystem Climate Interactions (Jan. 18, 2005)

(b) David Sheridan, Desertification of the United States 121 (1981)

 
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About The Author

Brian Ertz

66 Responses to Hamburgers are the Hummers of Food in Global Warming: Scientists

  1. avatar jburnham says:

    A very good related editorial:
    Cows vs. cottonwoods on Upper Missouri

  2. avatar Mike Post says:

    I have to dispute the 100% removal mantra that is prevalent on this blog. In California, on a state owned ecological reserve and on an adjacent federally owned national monument, grazing is used as a tool for ecological management. In some ways it replaces the 500,000 Tule elk that once roamed this area and others before the spanish rancho era. Now I will grant you that this is not a for-profit private operation but the point is that grazing, by some form of critter, has always been part of the ecosystem and many plants have evolved to take advantage of periodic grazing. There have been some great success grazing invasive species down to manageable levels. I understand the abuses and am not defending public leases as currently administered, just don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Where mega-millions of buffalo, antelope, elk and deer once roamed (and they are not coming back in those numbers for a host of reasons), their grazing role in that ecosystem needs to be accounted for, not just dismissed. Grazing is not bad, mismanaged grazing is bad.

  3. avatar jerry b says:

    Mike Post.. “There have been some great success grazing invasive species down to manageable levels”
    Would you please provide a link to these success stories. I’m not disputing your comment, but here in Montana, I’ve watched unsuccessful attempts at this and we seem to be inundated with invasive weeds which increase each year. For instance leafy spurge…the more it’s grazed, the more it produces new growth because of the enormous root structure. They’ve tried an integrated weed management program that includes spraying and grazing. One result has been an enormous increase in cheat grass.
    I’d like to see if there’s a better plan elsewhere.

  4. avatar Ken Cole says:

    I would say that cattle displace rather than replace those Tule elk which would be a better adapted animal to graze their native lands.

    The same thing could be said about cheatgrass and medusahead grass in the Great Basin. Cattle don’t graze those invasive species down, they do just the opposite. They kill the native vegetation and soil crusts which provide cheatgrass an opportunity to invade and replace it.

    Cattle are not compatible with the west. They’re just not. In the Great Basin you can’t graze livestock without mismanaging them. The land and vegetation just can’t sustain it.

  5. avatar kt says:

    Mike Post: If you are talking about the sad situation at the Carrizo Plain – New studies are showing that grazing is trashing the place – just like earlier kangaroo rat and other studies had said. Not to mention the always-nasty grazing rancher and BLM manager bullying politics having caused the suicide of one Manager who would not fall in line with the cowboys.

    Livestock grazing destroys arid western lands. Period. Plus is causing great harm to the planet.

  6. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    Mike Post,

    Thank you for your comment, I disagree with it.

    We can always debate the merit of substantiated claims with conflicting substantiated anecdotes – there’s always an exception. I’d like to look over the merit of yours. Unfortunately, there is no shortage in unsubstantiated misinformation, in any media, when it comes to the politics, the culture, and the science concerning livestock grazing in the west. It runs so deep that you need look no further than even the most well know national conservation groups to find an abandonment of science in favor of what is presumably decidely the more ‘politically prudent’ view sympathetic of the commercial endeavor. So when I use my space to write about an activity so pervasively destructive as public lands ranching, I find it would be dishonest, in my view, to feel inclined to afford what would invariably be disproportionate space generalizing such miniscule exception to what I find to be an objectively fair general observation.

    It’s crazy how conversation about what most who take the time learn about the condition of hundreds of millions of public acres can be stymied by what a few would feel needs to be ‘balanced’ by anecdote on 10 or 20 thousand.

  7. avatar TimothyB says:

    Here is my general observations when it comes to advocating conservation:
    1. You lose a small number of supporters when you want to rein in wind/solar power generation. SMALL
    2. You lose a large amount of supporters when you degrade hunters. LARGE
    3. You lose a very small amount of supporters when you degrade politicians because of their looks or what they wear. VERY SMALL
    4. You lose a HUGE amount of supporters when you advocate eliminating beef from their diet. HUGE

    SMALL + LARGE + VERY SMALL + HUGE = A lot of potential supporters that look to “the most well know national conservation groups” to support instead of the platform of “Wild Life News” and the “Western Watershed Project”.

  8. avatar Ken Cole says:

    How many supporters do you lose when you tell the truth? And what does that say about people?

    Just because we might lose supporters does that mean the truth shouldn’t be told?

  9. avatar Barb says:

    I’ve written to King Soopers several times asking if they would please carry Predator Friendly Beef. They probably think I’m joking — perhaps talking about sexual predators or something and throw my suggestion away! Still, if this could “catch on” like “Laura’s All Natural Beef” it would be better than nothing.

  10. avatar kt says:

    TimothyB

    I didn’t know this all was about getting supporters. At some level, it is about getting the Truth Out.

    Beef kills – everything from clogging arteries, to causing rapid evolution of new super-strains of antibiotic resistant drugs to heating up the planet. I would say: Send your dollars to whoever tells you the fairy tale you want to hear if you want to lives in a shuttered “don’t mess with my beefsteak world”.

  11. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    TimothyB,

    Thanks for your comment, I disagree with it in 2 ways.

    1. I don’t believe your small/large algorithm is necessarily true.

    2. I take it as a darn good thing that I’m not bound to measure my advocacy or voice – what I believe to be right or wrong – using the metric that you posit.

    Why is it not more palatable a standard to ask what’s right ?

    TimothyB – are you suggesting that any of the bullets that I list in the above post are untrue ? Are you saying that wildlife and wild places are NOT impacted by livestock production to the degree that I cite ?

    If so – I ask that you provide your citation – let’s compare, apples to apples, our ideas – let’s have that honest exchange.

    But if you’re suggesting that your omission of these ideas is a better route because it’ll fetch more members – I’m not really certain how to approach that. I guess I’ll just say that I am fortunate that I’m not held to that compass.

    People are never going to support an idea that they’re never given the opportunity to ponder – for fear of it’s disfavorable reception TimothyB.

    I hope you’ll contest the bullet-points – or state that you don’t object to them.

  12. avatar SAP says:

    Thanks for another thought-provoking post, Brian. Just a little more stymie-ing:

    1. You’re citing climate change as a reason to get domestic ruminants off of public lands . . . won’t they more or less then be replaced with wild ruminants? I comprehend most of your rationale for wanting domestic ruminants gone, but bison, elk, and deer have CH4-N20-spewing guts too.

    In a lot of the REALLY arid West (eg. Great Basin, Sonora), there probably were never large concentrations of wild ruminants, and really almost no larger ruminants, so I can see how getting cattle out of those places would be a substantial net reduction in emissions. But in places where cattle would be swapped out for bison, elk, deer, and pronghorn, are we really going to see a reduction in ghg?

    2. The map showing that grazing is the largest land use in the West is a little outdated, and to my eye, a little misleading. As a land use, a shopping mall is always there and pretty much excludes any other use of those acres. Is it accurate to say that a high-mountain grazing allotment — portions of which may never be grazed, portions of which may have cattle for as little as two weeks — is an exclusive use of those acres?

    3. I like red meat, as do a lot of other people. I think most Americans — 26% of whom are clinically obese — could stand to dramatically decrease their consumption of red meat and a lot of other stuff (particularly, high fructose corn syrup & partially-hydrogentated fats). I agree that beef should cost more and that we should have fewer cattle.

    I strongly disagree with the rejection of grass-fed as a healthy, sustainable alternative to industrial beef. I accept the research findings that a cow eating grass will produce more greenhouse gas than she would eating corn.

    However, there are other environmental trade-offs involved with getting that cow to the feedlot, growing the feed, and getting the feed to the feedlot, dealing with large concentrations of hormone-&antibiotic-laden animal waste, airborne particulate, and others.

    Having not seen the actual study, I have no way to judge the thoroughness of their methodology in accounting for just the greenhouse gas portion of this equation; I know they’re not accounting for water pollution, airborne particulate, and bad smells (but of course, we’re only going to site CAFOs in places populated by expendable rural people, so nevermind those impacts).

    Then there’s the healthy food trade-off. Here’s an excerpt from Michael Pollan, writing in the New York Times in 2002:

    ‘We have come to think of “cornfed” as some kind of old-fashioned virtue; we shouldn’t. Granted, a cornfed cow develops well-marbled flesh, giving it a taste and texture American consumers have learned to like. Yet this meat is demonstrably less healthy to eat, since it contains more saturated fat. A recent study in The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the meat of grass-fed livestock not only had substantially less fat than grain-fed meat but that the type of fats found in grass-fed meat were much healthier. (Grass-fed meat has more omega 3 fatty acids and fewer omega 6, which is believed to promote heart disease; it also contains betacarotine and CLA, another “good” fat.) A growing body of research suggests that many of the health problems associated with eating beef are really problems with cornfed beef. In the same way ruminants have not evolved to eat grain, humans may not be well adapted to eating grain-fed animals. Yet the U.S.D.A.’s grading system continues to reward marbling—that is, intermuscular fat—and thus the feeding of corn to cows.

    The economic logic behind corn is unassailable, and on a factory farm, there is no other kind. Calories are calories, and corn is the cheapest, most convenient source of calories. Of course the identical industrial logic—protein is protein—led to the feeding of rendered cow parts back to cows, a practice the F.D.A. banned in 1997 after scientists realized it was spreading mad-cow disease.

    Make that mostly banned. The F.D.A.’s rules against feeding ruminant protein to ruminants make exceptions for “blood products” (even though they contain protein) and fat. Indeed, my steer has probably dined on beef tallow recycled from the very slaughterhouse he’s heading to in June. “Fat is fat,” the feedlot manager shrugged when I raised an eyebrow.’
    [http://www.michaelpollan.com/article.php?id=14]

    I have closely followed the research on the health benefits of grassfed meat and dairy since 2002, and the case always seems to get stronger. CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) appears to shrink cancerous tumors, rather than cause them. Look it up.

    Then there’s the pastures as carbon sinks angle, which the researcher glibly dismisses:

    He [Nathan Pelletier] added that most pastures were highly managed, and subject to “periodic renovations and also fertilization.” Finally, with grass-fed cattle “there is also a high [grass] trampling rate. So the actual land area that you need to maintain magnifies that [GHG] difference,” Pelletier said.

    Huh? Did his study actually address pasture management, or is he just speculating about these “renovations”? And the stuff about trampling and “land area” magnifying GHG difference is far from self evident. Of course cattle walk on the grass in their pastures. Does he imagine that no one ever took that into account in designing a grazing plan?

    If he’s trying to say that, because cattle “trample” grass you’ll need more land per head than a scientist in Nova Scotia might predict, well, he’s probably right about that. But how do 200 cows on 350 acres produce more greenhouse gas than the same cows on 300 acres?

    Grasses that evolved with big herbivores can withstand being stepped on. Good grazing systems keep trampling at a useful level without damaging the grass. No, not everyone uses good grazing systems, and no, not all grasslands evolved with big herbivores.

    I think what Pelletier is really trying to do is downplay pastures as carbon sinks, by claiming they get plowed up and artificially fertilized, such that they’re scarcely better than annually-tilled monocultures. He has a tidy, sexy study that leaves eaters with no good option but to swear off beef: healthy grassfed beef is “bad” for climate change; you have to choose unhealthy grainfed if you want to do the right thing for the climate; you should just eat kale instead (NB: I LIKE kale!).

    He has not (& mea culpa, Brian, I am bringing up the exceptional anecdote) offered up the alternative: well-managed organic pastures serving as carbon sinks (because they never get plowed up and replanted — which, incidentally, makes them better habitat for a lot of small vertebrates and invertebrates than an Illinois corn monoculture).

    There are people raising healthy grassfed beef. lamb, pork, poultry, and dairy on such pastures. The eater gets a healthy product that required very little fossil fuel to produce and deliver; the climate gets a break by storing carbon in all that healthy living plant matter that — ideally — never get plowed up.

    Switching to a grass-fed mode of production will likely result in fewer cattle, too. In a grain-finished system, the young cattle are all taken off the pastures and finished in feedlots, eating feed whose environmental costs is not reflected in its price (subsidies from the oilfield to the floodplain to the mailbox). Taking the young cattle off the pasture frees up resources to produce more young cattle. If you had to keep them on pasture and finish them, you couldn’t support as big a calf crop.

    All told, I think these studies claiming that grassfed is worse for climate are incomplete at best. And I think that consumers who aren’t ready to become vegetarians will just tune this stuff out if we don’t present good alternatives in the climate-friendly diet. “Eat unhealthy, mass-produced beef from a CAFO because it’s better for the environment” isn’t a very catchy slogan.

  13. avatar kt says:

    SAP

    Have you looked at the UN Report on the Global Warming – a very large compendium of data that shows how “free range” grazing devastates lands around the globe?

    Here it is (Livestock’s Long Shadow) at this Link:

    http://www.box.net/shared/static/dehxi8gr65.pdf

    There is just no reason to raise or eat beef. It is not only a huge problem for the climate – it is a huge waste of water – including very much so for “free range cattle” in the arid West. Whole streams are diverted to water a scraggly pasture for “range fed” beef, our public lands laid to waste as welfare ranchers graze their herds for $1.35 a month …

  14. avatar JimT says:

    SAP,

    Some questions since you obviously have studied this subject.

    Do bison really produce as much CO2/methane per unit animal as cows?
    Wouldn’t it best to simply replace cows with bison IF we are going to have public lands grazing at all from a habitat impact point of view, not to mention the health impacts on the public?
    Doesn’t Pollan address this fallacy that you can’t have large scale, grass fed livestock operations with his Argentina chapter in his latest book?
    What are the latest stats on how much of the national beef supply we would lose if cows were banished from the public lands? Last I remember reading was public lands ranching supplied less than3% of the national supply, a number that would not result in huge price spikes.

  15. avatar SAP says:

    kt – I have read the UN report. I wasn’t addressing cattle on arid rangelands, I was addressing grassfed beef as a general concept. Someone raising 50 calves a year on pasture in Gallatin Valley, MT, or in Missouri, or Vermont, for instance.

    No reason to eat beef? I thought finding it tasty and nutritious were good reasons.

    JimT – I do not know whether bison or any other ruminant produce as much greenhouse gas as Bos taurus. Have to see whether there have been any emissions studies on other ruminants besides cattle and sheep. Bison do tend to be more mobile, which is why you need a little more fence to contain them if you want them to be in predictable places.

    I do know about how much of the US beef supply spends some time grazing on public lands — it’s about 8%.

  16. Being out on the Great Basin, Mohave, and Sonorian deserts the last week or so, I can testify there are cows; and they didn’t replace some other large animal.

    I think cattle on these deserts have a horrific effect because they didn’t even partially replace native large grazing animals. Small mammals and insects were the native herbivores.

    I don’t like the damage I see from feral donkeys (burros) either. They should be eliminated. The desert, where undisturbed, is a huge carbon sink.

  17. avatar SAP says:

    JimT – I don’t recall that specific topic in Pollan’s book, but I think you’re right and he is too — I think corporate ag is not interested in grassfed because they can’t figure out how to make huge profits of it. They like the current system of using whatever grasslands they have to grow calves that will then go eat subsidized corn in Nebraska.

  18. avatar SAP says:

    Ralph – agreed on all three points.

  19. avatar JimT says:

    SAP, I think if you find that chapter, you will be impressed by the Argentina approach. As I recall, it is focused on grass feeding, and a rotational schedule, along with a return to the multipurpose farm, where more than one crop is raised. One of the failings Pollan finds with our current agriculture is the monoculture approach..encourages all sorts of mischief with disease, pests, economics…In other words, he advocates a return to ranching and farming being part of the same operation as it used to be in this country. And Argentina beef is regarded as world class…

    I was surprised to see your figure at 8%, but then, it seems to be based on including those bovines who may be on public lands part of the time. I am more concerned about the welfare folks who have such little private lands that but for the public lands leases and the sweet deal they get, they couldn’t exist. Last time I checked, no industry was entitled to exist at the taxpayer’s expense. Can you imagine if the towns and villages of New England had cried “we are entitled” when the mills went south, and the manufacturers left for off shore labor? …

    I also remember reading that one of the reasons bison are much better for the Western landscape is that they don’t pull the grasses out by the roots when they eat, as do cattle. They essentially prune the native grasses, encouraging root development and future growth. I wonder if that style of eating had any effect on the root depth of the native grasslands, often 6 feet or more, in addition to the grasses’ response to the lack of moisture?

  20. Regarding the desert as a carbon sink, the most obvious damage I see is from off-road vehicles.

    Great Basin Watch just had a good article on the growing problem:

    Update: Off-Roaders in the Mojave Desert

  21. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    SAP –

    your thoughts are not so anecdotal as my comment was intended for – i.e. the “i know a guy/gal/place where it’s done right so your critique of public lands ranching is illigit”.

    Look, I’m no expert but let’s be clear – when we’re talking about public land livestock grazing – we’re talking about an activity that generally is taking place on arid/semi-arid public lands — the west.

    1. You’re citing climate change as a reason to get domestic ruminants off of public lands . . . won’t they more or less then be replaced with wild ruminants? I comprehend most of your rationale for wanting domestic ruminants gone, but bison, elk, and deer have CH4-N20-spewing guts too.

    1. Direct emissions associated with flatulence are only one part of the contribution to emissions.
    (a) wild ruminants behave differently than domestic livestock. Predators sweep them across the landscape – less damange to watershed – trophic cascade. You know this stuff. That different relationship affects the land use’s contribution to global warming gases — and it’s inverse – the potential of properly functioning ecosystems to sequester carbon.

    That happens as a function of many different impacts that public lands grazing has on the system. I’ve pondered about this previously and you can read over the points if you like – here – briefly –
    (i) Livestock (cows) trample/compact soils that otherwise sequester carbon equivalent gases, and are responsible for erosion/loss of topsoils on landscape scopes. That topsoil – a huge carbon sink built over thousands of years on arid/semi-arid landscapes, once washed away is a lot more likely to hit anaerobic conditions (i.e. in water) and emit its carbon content back into the atmosphere.
    (ii) Livestock reduce productivity of vegetation communities that otherwise sequester carbon/& = (i.e. weeds, reduced vigor, landscape level veg. manipulations, etc.)
    (iii) Livestock desertify landscapes exacerbating heat retention/micro-climate impacts
    (iv) Livestock on the range take (perhaps) more fuel to transport into & out of the backcountry.
    etc etc etc

    (b) A quick google gives us this to chew on (out of New Zealand – for what it’s worth):
    Dairy cattle (74.74 – Kg CH4/head/yr)
    Beef cattle (55.98)
    Sheep (10.61)
    Deer (20.85)

    But in places where cattle would be swapped out for bison, elk, deer, and pronghorn, are we really going to see a reduction in ghg?

    (a) Wildlife doesn’t take trucks to transport to and fro.
    (b) Wildlife in properly functioning ecosystems are pushed around (see above)

    and besides – I’d rather have wildlife.

    2. The map showing that grazing is the largest land use in the West is a little outdated, and to my eye, a little misleading. As a land use, a shopping mall is always there and pretty much excludes any other use of those acres. Is it accurate to say that a high-mountain grazing allotment — portions of which may never be grazed, portions of which may have cattle for as little as two weeks — is an exclusive use of those acres?

    “the most widespread land management practice in western North America,” (70% of west)
    [#] Fleischer, Thomas L., Ecological Costs of Livestock Grazing in Western North America. Conservation Biology 8 (Sept. 1994) 629.

    “the most severe and insidious of the impacts on rangelands”
    [#]Noss, Reed F. and Allen Y. Cooperrider Saving Nature’s Legacy. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1994

    However, there are other environmental trade-offs involved with getting that cow to the feedlot, growing the feed, and getting the feed to the feedlot, dealing with large concentrations of hormone-&antibiotic-laden animal waste, airborne particulate, and others.

    that all happens with cattle on public lands as well — (most) cattle on public lands spend time in the feedlot. it’d be interesting to see how much of that hormone-antibiotic-laden animal waste gets deposited on natural landscapes, what the effect is to water, wildlife and fisheries – etc.

    On the CAFO versus pasture question — A couple of the most pertinent reasons cited by the UN (Livestock’s Long Shadow) advocating for intensified production (CAFOs) as a means to partially mitigate for the GHGs & climate change contribution is that when livestock are produced in CAFOs, what goes into the cows and what comes out of the cows can be better managed. Emissions from cows and waste can be collected and burned as fuel and supplements can more readily be given to cows which increase the efficiency of digestion – decreasing the amount of emission. Also – transport.

    Having not seen the actual study, I have no way to judge the thoroughness of their methodology in accounting for just the greenhouse gas portion of this equation; I know they’re not accounting for water pollution, airborne particulate, and bad smells (but of course, we’re only going to site CAFOs in places populated by expendable rural people, so nevermind those impacts).

    Not sure what to say about that. Water impacts take place whether they’re point or non-point.

    On airborne particulates I’d point you to this article. An interesting find.

    And the smell being bad in wilderness/public lands is a bummer too.

    Huh? Did his study actually address pasture management, or is he just speculating about these “renovations”? And the stuff about trampling and “land area” magnifying GHG difference is far from self evident. Of course cattle walk on the grass in their pastures. Does he imagine that no one ever took that into account in designing a grazing plan?

    i don’t think this is really all that important.

    But how do 200 cows on 350 acres produce more greenhouse gas than the same cows on 300 acres?

    I presume the maintenance of pasture argument is a function of the amount of fertilizer applied. Fertilizer is a huge contributor to GHGs. More land needed = more fertilizer presumably applied.

    It’d be great if everyone raised cattle on private pasture for which there was no need to till – a condition enhanced by the liberal application of water no doubt ? – a whole other variable to consider when discussing raising beef. it takes a lot of water – the potential of a pasture to sequester carbon is largely a function of nitrogen — carbon sequestration and nitrogen content in soils are correlated — that is, more nitrogen = more carbon sequestration – but you gotta have water because the mechanism is productivity (in soil & vegetation)… Cattle on many public lands preferentially select native forbs that are often legumes – they fix nitrogen in the soil. it’d be interesting to see a study on the effect of such decreasers/increasers on the soil chemistry – and thus the carbon sequestration potential of the landscapes affected… Systems have evolved to metabolize that input – as opposed to the overload of ammoniacal nitrogen given cow-pies – which also maintain higher carbon/nitrogen ratios potentially depreciating/isolating their contribution – – first, with the soil crusts, there’s more moisture in the soil keeping microbial activity happening longer and with greater intensity. cows break that down/trample/destroy. With no-till systems i presume you’re using a nitrogen fixer – alfalfa is a good one, but it takes water. not a lot of water on the vast majority of public landscapes — and trampling surrounding water-sources degrades the soil structures conducive to the nutrient exchanges necessary to maintain such a system…

    it’s all about water.

    There are people raising healthy grassfed beef. lamb, pork, poultry, and dairy on such pastures. The eater gets a healthy product that required very little fossil fuel to produce and deliver; the climate gets a break by storing carbon in all that healthy living plant matter that — ideally — never get plowed up.

    Great ! can we employ it on a scale necessary to respond to current demand and still maintain the benefits that you describe ? I don’t think so — that’s why i say eat less or none — because the way i see it, that needs to happen even if all of the virtues you describe are true.

    All told, I think these studies claiming that grassfed is worse for climate are incomplete at best. And I think that consumers who aren’t ready to become vegetarians will just tune this stuff out if we don’t present good alternatives in the climate-friendly diet. “Eat unhealthy, mass-produced beef from a CAFO because it’s better for the environment” isn’t a very catchy slogan.

    Look – bottom line – we can go back and forth about whether or not CAFO is ‘better’ than pasture (both of which are a hell of a lot better than public land in my view) — but that’s just the point. i don’t think it’s appropriate to put an idea out there about how we just need to do it better because :

    (a) i don’t believe that’s true
    (b) there is no shortfall of calls or PR toward that end.
    (c) too often the calls to ‘just do it right’ are mired in the incomplete accounting of actual consequence all of us describe
    (d) too often the calls to ‘just do it right’ pacify what i believe is needed urgency about beef’s impact — no matter the means

    it’s easy to do. maybe someone can someday tell me for certain how many out there ‘cared enough to do it right’ but were ‘turned off’ of doing it “right” by a suggestion to reduce/eliminate beef consumption. How many ?

    whether you reduce/eliminate beef consumption because you feel sorry for the tortured cows, because you care about the wasted landscapes and wildlife, or give a rip about your carbon hoof-print – a reduction in beef consumption is a good idea – it avoids the nuance and uncertainties of which we can agree to disagree about – but that cloud and obfuscate the important ideas at the heart of it, it engenders a greater appreciation for beef (whether living or dead) in any event, and if you’re doing it ‘right’ – you’ve got nothing to worry about anyway, because awareness of these facts – this message – isn’t going to cut into your demand, let alone your profit margin.

    Get cows the hell off of our public lands.

  22. avatar kt says:

    Great response, Brian.

    I want to know how much stream water is poured into irrigation ditches, diverted and run through center pivots filling Idaho Power’s coffers — OR how many wild land springs are stomped to a manure brine — to “do it right”?

    WHAT is the water footprint of SAP’s beef?

    On a tad lighter note (and I could not find the answers – maybe someone can) – a USGS quiz.

    http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/sc1.html

  23. avatar Debra K says:

    Also, many people appear to have the misperception that cattle that graze on public lands are “grassfed.” Certainly, while they’re on public lands, those cattle are eating grasses, forbs and shrubs.

    However, after they come off the public allotments, the vast majority will end up going to feedlots where they will be stuffed with corn, hormones, etc. in the cheap mass production mode.

    The majority of these ranchers are just looking for the cheapest forage possible to get their inventory through to the finishing stage. Public lands, with their $1.35 AUM cost, are about 10 times cheaper than AUMs on comparable private land.

    Also, having seen many of these miserable fly-covered, manure-splattered cattle on public lands drinking out of horribly contaminated troughs and streams, no way would I consider ingesting this meat in my body.

  24. avatar Barb says:

    Ralph, if I had to and could choose, I’d much rather see donkeys or burros on our public lands than cattle, able to live unharrassed. They’ve been horribly persecuted and blamed for everything (along with wild horses) and I like to see some fairness and justice. If we need to get all non-native animals off public lands, then we need to ensure they go to good homes, not slaughterhouses. They don’t deserve that.

  25. avatar Save bears says:

    Barb,

    Where you going to find homes for 10s of thousands of horses and burros?

  26. avatar Save bears says:

    For that matter, I am still trying to figure out, if we finally get cattle off public lands, where the heck are they going to put millions of cows!

  27. avatar jimbob says:

    You know, it’s not even a personal choice that my family does not eat beef—-we just can’t afford it—-and given it’s unhealthy reputation that is mostly ok! However, I find it ironic that much of the beef in the United States is raised on Federal land and should therefore be cheaper. It is not. Plus the fact that a farmer who raises beef in the east has to compete with the western rancher who therefore gains by higher costs associated with the eastern farmer…..you get the picture. Pure Irony!

  28. avatar Barb says:

    I believe only 2% of beef is “raised”on public lands.

  29. avatar Barb says:

    If the cattle were off public lands, I believe there would more then enough room for horses and burros. These animals have more of an intrinsic right to be living here than cattle, which were brought here for profit only and have been wrongly subsidized by taxpayers.

  30. avatar Save bears says:

    Barb,

    I am not saying….that horses don’t or do have more right, what I am saying, is IF we get rid of cattle on public lands, what do we do with them? Slaughter? That would seem to go against what I hear many say on this blog, there are millions of cattle in America, does not matter how much is used for US consumption, what the hell do we do with them?

  31. avatar Barb says:

    OK I see.

    The cattle need to be phased out slowly, not all at once.

  32. avatar Barb says:

    Since “beef” is such an ingrained eating/culture habit in the U.S., is raising it in the Southeast or the Midwest or the NE as destructive as raising it in the West? It doesn’t seem to be nearly as large an issue — correct me if I’m wrong. There are certainly predatory animals in the SE, NE, and the Midwest.

  33. avatar Save bears says:

    One other thing I will add, Horses and Burros were also brought to America by Europeans as beast of burden for Man, the Spanish brought them here as their upper hand over the native peoples of the Americas and used them to perpetuate conquest and pillage of the natural resources…of this land mass…lets not fool ourselves they were brought here for non-selfish reasons! Horses allow them to “Profit” off the resources and peoples of the new world!

  34. avatar Save bears says:

    Very little in the way of Lions, there are coyotes in large populations, which may take calves, in the Northern Midwest, yes, you have wolves, black bears are pretty prevalent in mose of those areas, you have very little predations east of the Mississippi compare to the western landscape..

  35. avatar Barb says:

    Yes, Save Bears, you are correct that horses were brought here (reintroduced) as a tool. But that doesn’t mean they have to continue to be mistreated. Hopefully, our society is moving in the direction that animals are intrinsically valuable, not just for how they can help man profit or otherwise be “of use.” Heck, my dogs lay around all day doing nothing and I adore them. Animals don’t have to be of any particular use (at least to me) to be intrinsically valuable.

  36. avatar kt says:

    Save Bears – Duh – that is what the cattle are being dumped out on public lands to do, anyway. I kinda think this Link is relative to Save Bears, Don’t Save Condors, Save Cows commentary.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concern_troll#Concern_troll

    Note the on-line behavior pattern it describes.

    Concern troll

    A concern troll is a false flag pseudonym created by a user whose actual point of view is opposed to the one that the user’s sockpuppet claims to hold. The concern troll posts in web forums devoted to its declared point of view and attempts to sway the group’s actions or opinions while claiming to share their goals, but with professed “concerns”. The goal is to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt within the group.[12]

  37. avatar Save bears says:

    Barb,

    As a biologist, I have to look at all aspects of an issue, I don’t look at romantic notions or reasons and please don’t take that as an endorsement or negative about any particular animal…I have no romantic ideals about pigs, horses or cattle, they were all introduced to the Americas for a reason, and it was for a profit reason, now do they belong or need to be eradicated, it will depend on who you ask, what is the location and what is a priority in that particular local area..

    When we start talking about genetics…lets think about this, when cows were brought to the Americas, there was a genetically linked animal that lived her, the Bison, they can interbreed and produce offspring…When the Horse was brought to the Americas there was no genetically close species on this land mass..cows in an of themselves are not bad, I find domestication of many species causing problems, which is why I am 100% against Elk Farming..

    But if we are ever going to have a chance at balancing things out again, we have to look at the science and not the romantic nature of things…

    I want cattle reduced not just because the damage they cause, but because of the power the rancher holds over the public assets….to me that is more important…than erradication of the species..

  38. avatar kt says:

    By do, I was not clear – cows are dumped out on public lands to – Get fat for private profit and be killed for profit.

  39. avatar Save bears says:

    kt,

    I post legitimate arguments and questions, and you resort to calling me names…shows real maturity..you are going off the deep end the last few months KT..

    I could care less what wiki says, that can be written by anyone with an opinion…

    So you know what you can do with it..

  40. avatar Barb says:

    It would be better for all concerned if cattle were moved from the west to the other side of the country where predation is not such a problem. People get it in their heads “This is a free country. If I damn well want to ranch cattle in the west, I will. Who cares what damages it does or what animals it displaces? All I care about is what I care about.”

    It’s pure selfishness and an inability or stubborn unwillingness to look at the bigger picture.

    Anyone familiar with the beef industry — sales rising or falling?

  41. avatar Save bears says:

    kt,

    again, I will say, you must have a reading comprehension problem, I NEVER SAID, DON”T SAVE CONDORS!!! Do you want me to repeat it?

    I never said SAVE COWS, I have worked for over a decade to get them off public lands! Which is again, one of the reasons, I DON’T WORK FOR FWP any longer, because I would not doctor reports about CATTLE and BISON!

    If a differing opinion or statement comes along that is contrary to your view, you really don’t like it do you?

  42. avatar Save bears says:

    Myself personally could care less if we have any COWS, I eat wild game for my meat..I don’t purchase beef in the stores, to expensive, to many drugs and not worth the fat…

  43. avatar SAP says:

    Brian – thanks for your thorough and thoughtful response. You raise many good points and made some good observations.

    Just a couple more points from me:

    You wrote, regarding organic grassfed meat & dairy:

    “Great ! can we employ it on a scale necessary to respond to current demand and still maintain the benefits that you describe ? I don’t think so — that’s why i say eat less or none — because the way i see it, that needs to happen even if all of the virtues you describe are true.”

    I agree with you. I think that current demand should be cut, by full-cost pricing of high-quality food. Raising meat & dairy the way I described is way more expensive than the industrial-cornfed mode of production. It’s slower by far. To be ecologically sustainable, it would mean fewer animals per acre (ANYWHERE, not just the West) than conventional production, so that pastures could have ample recovery time and not need synthetic fertilizers.

    The price of meat & dairy from this kind of production would have to be higher than conventional (although it would be fascinating to see what the costs of conventional production would be if the price had to reflect all the externalities). Higher prices that reflect true costs would inevitably lower demand, resulting in fewer livestock & ideally better human health due to eating healthier foods.

    We spend less of our disposable income on food than just about anywhere in the world (about 6% on food at home; the French spend over 13%). If it’s all the same to farmers, I’d rather pay them more for higher quality instead of quantity.

    [SIDEBAR: It’s interesting to look at US food expenditures — we spend very little to get huge quantities of food that makes us unhealthy, then spend more than any other developed nation on healthcare to deal with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Opponents of fundamental health care reform squawk about “socialism,” but we already have it, it’s just a totally dysfunctional system of socializing the cost of overproduction of unhealthy foods . . . I’d rather pay more up front for good food, stay healthy, and then have a single-payer health care system in case I got ill.]

    You also wrote about avoiding

    “the nuance and uncertainties of which we can agree to disagree about – but that cloud and obfuscate the important ideas at the heart of it, it engenders a greater appreciation for beef (whether living or dead) in any event, and if you’re doing it ‘right’ – you’ve got nothing to worry about anyway, because awareness of these facts – this message – isn’t going to cut into your demand, let alone your profit margin.”

    Well. I come to this blog and discuss things so we can get closer to the truth. Digging into uncertainties is how knowledge advances. I understand what you’re saying — that the meat industry has plenty of PR, so why spend time & effort here defending or debating reform vs. abolition. I’m sorry if you feel like your message is getting watered down by my questions.

    I can’t answer your question about how many people have given up on trying to “do it right”. A lot of the people I interact with care deeply about the food they eat, though, and I have talked to several who had seen Pelletier’s study. They thought they were doing a good thing by eating locally-raised grassfed beef, and here comes this study saying nope, the responsible thing to do is eat CAFO beef if you’re going to eat it at all.

    Who gets hurt by that? JR Simplot? Monfort? Tyson-IBP? Hardly. Their customers, I speculate, are either completely oblivious or even climate-change deniers.

    No, it’s going to be the small, grassfed producer in central Vermont, southwest Montana, or Missouri, who loses customers over this kind of information (which I think is de-contextualized, overgeneralized and shoddy at best). Their customers are probably well-educated, environmentally-aware people, some of whom may look at blogs like this from time to time for reliable, factual information.

    These are the kind of producers I’m talking about:

    http://www.organicpiedmontesebeef.com/index.htm

    http://www.vermontgrassfedbeef.com/Benefits.html

    http://www.greenwoodfarms.com/Grassfed_Beef.htm

    And one last point on grazing as a land use: extent and intensity are two different things, I’m sure you realize.

    Thanks again for a good discussion. Yes, we can agree to disagree about much of this, and I agree with a lot of what you’ve written here.

  44. avatar Barb says:

    I think a lot of people would pay more for Predator Friendly Beef than not — the trend seems to be on quality vs. quantity — more supermarket chains are carrying more and more “organic” foods; it is more costly to produce but Americans are spoiled — they want the best at WalMart/ high production cost. Doesn’t work that way.

  45. After all these serious, long, and great comments, I feel one thing has been overlooked (tho I might have missed it).

    It has been the deliberate government policy, in league with agribusiness, to produce cheap (and less than true cost) food that is full of empty calories, externalizes costs not only on the environment, but on the health of people. I am talking about much more than beef.

    Unless there are dramatic medical advances and a great expansion of affordable health care, the coming generations will sicken and die earlier than previous ones because of obesity and related diseases like type II diabetes. Even then, people will have to change their eating habits, but that might be like stopping smoking which has taken a generation or two to become a practice in rapid decline.

    This is trillions of dollars, not to mention the misery.

  46. avatar SAP says:

    Ralph – I did mention that in the middle of my last post. It just occurred to me today that it’s sort of this “France-in-reverse” socialism at work here in the US: The French pay more for their food (13% of disposable income, vs. less than 7% here), but it’s probably healthier food and they have a healthy food culture, and they don’t have near the health problems we do.

    Here, we save money on food that makes us unhealthy, then spend the savings (and then some) on trying to fix what we do to ourselves with bad diet and inactivity.

  47. avatar Barb says:

    (Interestingly, though, the French are big time smokers.) Most other countries do not eat meat in the QUANTITY and sheer portion size that Americans do. Sad to say, but Americans are disgusting gluttons when it comes to meat. Other countries serve mainly rice or vegetables with SOME meat; we do it the other way around. School-aged kids are obese in record numbers now. A lot of people are eating “ready prepared” foods or frozen stuff, courtesy of Con Agra, that “friendly factory” that treats animals like inanimate items so the consumer can have cheap, ready to eat meals. They appeal to the “average” busy family with both mother and father working, hungry kids — need something fast to prepare!

  48. avatar kt says:

    An interesting Blog Post on the issue. I didn’t realize the Al Gore had finally (and belatedly) admitted meat was a problem …

    http://www.newdream.org/blog/?p=932

  49. avatar Barb says:

    Yes, interesting. But it’s really not a secret why many are afraid to speak out on the issue — because their constituents can agree with them on many things, but not the vegetarian part. The groups don’t want to lose their donations, so they are in effect “pimping themselves.”

  50. avatar Elkchaser says:

    Most of the quality farmers and ranchers in this country would choose to eliminate subsidies and let the free market set the price for their products.
    Also – Predator Friendly Beef – you have got to be joking.

  51. avatar Barb says:

    People used to laugh at “organically grown” products as well, Elkchaser. The market is increasing in organically grown products. No, I’m not at all joking.

  52. avatar Virginia says:

    Just to add a little fuel to the fire – the Wyoming legislature is in the process of approving a grazing bill that would put a cap on the amount that could be bid for leases on state trust lands. The Wyoming ranching industry is backing this bill that would put a limit on bidding wars for state lands that would benefit Wyoming ranchers and the long-term value of state trust lands. So, because we need to support the interests of the ranching community, the Wyoming Stockgrowers Assoc. wants to be sure that these ranchers holding about 4,000 grazing leases on 3M acres of school trust land be able to match any competing bid for expiring leases and the law requires the leases be limited to ranching use. This would change state law to cap bids by a competitor at no more than the maximum fair market value. It passed the House with little debate and is expected to pas the Senate and received unanimous approval from the Senate Ag committee.

  53. avatar kt says:

    Ahhh .. nothing like the not-so-free market when it comes to welfare ranching in Wyoming.

    THAT of course is to keep the price as low as possible. I wonder if it violates the state constitution? If endowment lands are to be managed for maximizing return to the schools it will might.

    I would also like to know how many of the Oil Companies now hold public land grazing permits, and where, in Wyoming. Their support for well-connected Local Good Old Boys livestock helps keep themselves on the best of terms with the Legislators ..

  54. avatar dbaileyhill says:

    The deadly bacteria, MRSA -methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is spreading to livestock and people. While thoroughly cooking meat will kill the bacteria, person to person contact can also spread the bacteria. This particular strain of MRSA use to only show up in hospitals. However, a new strain -ST398- discovered by the Dutch is showing up in pigs, cattle and chickens in Europe. The MRSA has been discovered in pigs both in Canada and the US. People working with live animals and in slaughter houses can become infected, get sick, and pass it on to others they come in contact with. People with chronic health problems and weakened immune systems will be very prone to the bacteria. At one time MRSA only showed up in hospitals because of heavy antibiotic use.
    A story by Joe Rojas-burke from the Oregonian said, ” Researchers in Iowa found MRSA in nearly half of 299 pigs tested at two large-scale pork producers… The bacteria also showed up in 9 of 14 workers tested at one of the sites, researchers reported last month in the PLos One.”

    I thought this was interesting.

  55. avatar Elkchaser says:

    So what exactly would qualify as predator friendly beef? I’ve got to hear this.

  56. avatar John d. says:

    Meat from cattle raised on farms whose owners and hands do not perform any lethal actions whatsoever against predatory species, either personally or by other means including, but not limited to, Wildlife Services.

  57. avatar Elkchaser says:

    So…. go buy yourself a ranch, stock it with cattle, wolves, and grizzlies – market your product … then let me know how profitable your business turns out.

  58. avatar John d. says:

    Swing and a miss.

  59. avatar SAP says:

    Elkchaser – you can use Google to look it up and see that people are in fact doing that:

    http://www.predatorfriendly.org/meet/index.html

    There are also a lot of producers who haven’t joined Predator Friendly and certified their products, but who ranch with grizzlies and wolves nonetheless.

  60. avatar outsider says:

    Wow I’m gone a little while and look at all the fun I missed. I would like to maybe raise a few points that I think were missed. One If you think the french eat healthier food and less beef your right partly. They eat a PILE OF HORSE, its leaner and in abundand supply in europe. Most of your south amemican countries also eat a lot of meat, but its not all beef its gunie pigs, yes the same one that you can buy in petco. Alpacs, lamb, laumas, dog, goat, and then the ones that can afford it eat beef. Yes thats right they strive to eat beef they save their pennies so they can eat beef. I could care less about cows on public lands, I kinda veiw them as a nessicary eveil. As soon as they are gone the ranchers and farmers who made their living off of them will also be gone and in their place will be mcmansions, and very large fences that will impact migration routs, and my ablitly to enjoy the outdoors. These people are going to make a living one way or the other so be carefull of what you ask for. Just ask anyone from the midwest or south just how many opertunites there are for free recreation there are? Very few and most of the time you have to pay to go play if you can afford to or if you can find someplace thats not already full. Just a few thoughts for ya all.

  61. avatar Barb says:

    Actually, Outsider, the UP and Northern Michigan is MAINLY for outdoor recreation activities, as are many parts of Minnesota, Maine, and other states.

    There are obviously larger tracts of “open spaces” still left in the west, as the population has never been as dense as the rest of the country, some of which is being bought by the Nature Conservancy (whatever anyone thinks of the organization is beside the point), the very wealthy (Ted Turner), and developers.

    Predatory Friendly Products:

    http://www.predatorconservation.org/%20Media/PDF/PCA_PF_web.pdf

  62. avatar Barb says:

    Elkchaser said “So…. go buy yourself a ranch, stock it with cattle, wolves, and grizzlies – market your product … then let me know how profitable your business turns out.”

    I guess it just shows how downright silly and un-natural it is to try to cattle ranch in the west.

    Why not open up a diamond and gold store in the middle of the poorest area in the nation and “see how profitable it is.”

    Logic needs to reign in matters of farming and ranching. And farmers and ranchers must learn to live with and respect native species, or they will find themselves (and are finding themselves) the brunt of much hatred.

  63. avatar Barb says:

    It’s kind of like trying to grow cactus in Michigan… or grow oranges or lime trees in Pennsylvania….

    Doesn’t it make more sense to grow/raise something that would be logically grown/raised in that particular climate/habitat?

  64. avatar Barb says:

    Elkchaser —

    (From Project Coyote:)

    Becky Weed ranches in Southwestern Montana with her husband Dave Tyler. They operate Thirteen Mile Lamb & Wool Company, a certified organic, predator friendly sheep ranch, as well as a small wool mill. Thirteen Mile joined the board of Predator Friendly shortly after its inception in the mid-90s, and has been marketing products made from Predator Friendly wool ever since.

    Weed is nationally recognized for her efforts in Predator Friendly ranching and was featured in Time Magazine in their series on “Heroes for the Planet” in 2000. As an outspoken proponent for human-predator coexistence, Weed advocates for dialogue with both consumers and producers through the Predator Friendly program.

    Weed is trained as a geologist, and worked in that field for many years before becoming involved in agriculture. She has been involved with carnivore conservation issues for several years, and currently serves on the Board of the Wild Farm Alliance and the Conservation & Science Board of Lava Lake Land & Livestock, a very large Idaho ranch with a dual mission for conservation and economically viable ranching. She is a member of the Montana Board of Livestock.

  65. avatar Elkchaser says:

    Wow – Small niche markets for examples, how could I have overlooked such a booming economic opportunity.

  66. avatar Barb says:

    Elkchaser — if you only view animals as to what they can do for YOU personally, you are not even close to thinking how most of the people (and most people today) think.

    Don’t you believe all animals have an inherent right from nature to exist unharrassed and unpersecuted?

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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