A CNN news report on the most damaging foods to global climate is welcome. http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/15/world/gallery/climate-damaging-foods/index.html

To those of us paying attention, it confirms what we have stated for quite some time, the production of beef and dairy products is one of the greatest sources of GHG emissions.  Indeed, any number of earlier reports have found livestock production to be one of the greatest single contributors to GHG emissions.

 

The UN suggests that 14.5% of all GHG emissions are from livestock, more than all transportation combined. That’s right more than all the planes, cars, trucks, and trains in the world. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?newsID=20772#.WRnzHYjyuM8

 

Another review by World Watch Institute came to an even higher estimate by including some of the collateral damage from livestock production. They estimated that as much as 51% of all GHG emissions can be attributed to livestock production. http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6294

 

No matter which study you rely upon, the bottom line is that livestock production is a major contributor to global warming. Thus, one of the biggest changes anyone can make in their behavior is to cut their consumption of these foods.
Of the foods listed in the CNN report, beef is number one and sheep is number two, dairy (butter) number three in terms of its contribution to global warming emissions.

 

Yet it is interesting that many “conservation groups” promote ranching around the West, supporting and not questioning grazing on public lands, not questioning the dewatering of our rivers to grow hay for beef and dairy cattle, to expecting supporters to hassle predators to keep them away from livestock (as in range rider programs) to talking about grass-fed beef as some great ecologically beneficial alternative.

 

The disconnect is striking. For instance, go to the Montana Audubon website http://mtaudubon.org/conservation-policy/global-warming/ and you will read that Montana Audubon believes “Global warming is the biggest environmental issue of our generation, threatening to greatly disrupt birds, other wildlife, and human communities. It is now time for solutions. Confronting the greatest environmental problem in our history will take commitment, dedication, and even sacrifice — but nothing less than the future of life on earth is at stake.”

 

Yet just this week I got a message from the Montana Audubon encouraging me to book a weekend at the JBL cattle ranch in Montana’s Centennial Valley owned by Rockefeller heiress, Peggy Dulany. Now I expect that Ms. Dulany raises cattle more carefully than perhaps other ranchers, but if “global climate change is the biggest environmental issue of our generation” as Audubon proclaims, does it make sense to promote any cattle operations?

 

Similarly, the CNN news article relies on a report done by NRDC that suggests eating less beef is a way all of us can reduce global climate warming. The report is here: https://www.nrdc.org/resources/eating-less-beef-goes-long-way-toward-cutting-carbon

 

Yet the same organization promotes cattle ranching in Montana.

https://www.nrdc.org/onearth/roam-roam-range

 

Or take the Coalition for the Deschutes River in Oregon. They are trying to restore natural water flows to the Deschutes River which, like most rivers in the West, is dramatically affected by irrigation withdrawals, And they discuss how climate change will exacerbate the issues with water use and withdrawals on the Deschutes River.

 

Yet in the same breath that they suggest we need to keep more water in the river and return to more natural flow regimes, they promote “local agriculture”.

 

Well, what comprises the greatest acreage of “farmland” and “local” agriculture in the cold, high desert of eastern Oregon? Irrigated hay and pasture for livestock.

 

Yet like the other groups mentioned above, there is a disconnect between their stated goals and their rhetoric. You might get a bit more natural flows by using some half-way solutions like improved irrigation measures.

 

But why are they promoting buying local beef and dairy products when growing hay and funneling them through livestock when it is one of the most inefficient uses of water you can imagine? Why not tell your supporters not to buy “local” beef or dairy—and certainly not buy beef or dairy at all. The fewer “local” farms, the better for the Deschutes River.

 

I could have easily featured many other organizations that have similar disconnects. TNC, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and many others are just as guilty of promoting western livestock production while bemoaning how climate change is the “biggest environmental issue of our generation.”

 

I do not want to imply that these organizations aren’t doing many other ecologically beneficial projects and responding to issues that have significant environmental impacts. Nevertheless, there is an obvious disconnect between many of their goals and their support of western livestock production.

 

Why the disconnect?

 

I think it’s because many of these groups are afraid of attacking a cultural icon—the rancher/farmer. In fact, I suspect many like the idea of “local” farms and ranches no matter what is produced on those operations because that is currently a trendy position. But it is also an unthinking and uncritical position.

 

The fact is whether grass-fed, predator-friendly, rotationally grazed under Savory methods, or whatever spin you want to put on it, cattle raising is contributing to GHG emissions, not to mention many other ecological impacts from destroying aquatic ecosystems, polluting waterways, consuming forage that would otherwise support native herbivores, and the rationale used to promote predator control, “pest” control (like Donald Trump Jr. shooting prairie dogs in Montana), to damaging vegetation and riparian communities. If you are a conservation organization, there is no activity that does more damage to the land, water, and wildlife than livestock production.

 

We all should be consuming less livestock red meat. And this is the easiest change for most of us to make in our lifestyles. Environmental organizations serious about climate change, owe it to their membership to emphasize how changing one’s diet is one of the best “actions” that any person can do to directly cut GHG emissions.

 

 
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About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

26 Responses to CNN Reports Most Damaging Foods–Beef Is Number One.

  1. avatar Mike Hudak says:

    I wrote a short article with “back of the envelope” calculations for the GHG contribution of cattle that graze on federal public lands. Those emissions are equivalent to burning approximately 1.67 billion gallons of gasoline (among other things). Here’s the article link: http://mikehudak.com/Articles/PLR_Methane.html

  2. avatar Carol Ames says:

    I’m 70 yrs.old. Been vegetarian 43 years, vegan since 2001. For the animals, whose lives matter to them. You may eat “less meat” for your health or the environment, but the animals still die in earnest. And they don’t die in “moderation.”

  3. avatar snaildarter says:

    Duh! I now have a great Indian vegetarian restaurant down the street, it makes it easier on a carnivore like me to skip meat.

  4. avatar Jerry Black says:

    Cowboys on the offense over grazing………….https://grazingpreventswildfires.com

  5. avatar Viochita Fea says:

    Did anyone capture the story? Looks like Big BEEF had it taken down right away.

  6. avatar Nancy says:

    Not going to make a bit of difference if Americans cut down on the consumption of beef when you realize the beef industry is already geared up and shifting into high gear, to accommodate a few hundred million or so folks, elsewhere, hungry for the taste of burgers, steaks etc.

    “After being locked out of the world’s largest market for 13 years, we strongly welcome the announcement that an agreement has been made to restore U.S. beef exports to China,” Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said in a statement. “It’s impossible to overstate how beneficial this will be for America’s cattle producers, and the Trump administration deserves a lot of credit for getting this achieved.”

    http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/05/12/528139468/chinese-chicken-is-headed-to-america-but-its-really-all-about-beef

  7. avatar Gary Humbard says:

    Do an internet search on the most “nutrient dense foods” and grass fed beef will show up in the top 10 on the vast majority of lists. Grass fed beef is important for men and especially as they age as it increases testosterone, a critical hormone for gaining or maintaining strength, promoting energy and you know what else! A little saturated fat is critical so if a guy wants low T, just become a vegetarian or vegan.

    As with anything in life, and say it slowly; “moderation” is the key and while there is negative impacts of grazing livestock on public lands, they are much less than raising cattle in feed lots. Livestock is going to get raised somewhere, so should a very small amount be allowed on millions of acres of public land under the guidance of public agencies with environmental protection standards or not? I say yes with the ever present NGO’s keeping watch and having a right to litigate if necessary.

    Personally, I only eat grass fed beef patties twice a week and no dairy as I’ve been told by numerous nutritionists, the dairy section is the most unhealthy aisle in a grocery store.

    • avatar Kathleen says:

      Perhaps you can enlighten these guys on low T and vegan diets!
      http://www.veganbodybuilding.com/

      “Eat what elephants eat”: https://www.forksoverknives.com/vegan-bodybuilder-plant-based-diet/

      Great vegan athletes: http://www.greatveganathletes.com/bodybuilders

    • avatar Rich says:

      Gary,

      Your concern regarding the level of testosterone in men may be a misguided as a little less testosterone in the human species may be a good thing. There are of course many sources of foods that are nutrient rich besides beef including those from plants and from native ungulates that the beef industry is displacing. Unfortunately I have personally witnessed an abundance of public lands that have been devastated by the beef and sheep industry and the adverse impacts on watersheds, soils, fisheries and the native plants and the wildlife that depend on them. Perhaps our planet could use a little less testosterone and more concern about protecting our planet and maintaining a healthy environment that we all depend on for survival.

    • avatar rork says:

      I found it hard to locate evidence (not theory) that meat consumption increases T. I found many poorly sourced lay-press articles, to be sure – some folks tremendously spin diet and supplement stories. Sometimes they earn money that way – selling books, ads on the web, or the supplements themselves. I did find a relevant study where they used a soy dietary intervention on men – no effect on T. PMID:16775579. Not that interesting.

      I had my cow meat for the year two weeks ago at Ma’s – tenderloin on the grill. You know it’s bad cause it tastes so good.

  8. avatar Nancy says:

    Speaking of foods. Could the human species ever consider conforming to a diet like this and save a few million/billon, animal lives?

  9. avatar Immer Treue says:

    Makes sense, to a point. An old friend used to do a 36 hour fast once per week. I tried it for a while, but those first 12 hours were always tough. After 36 hours, the craving for food was almost non-existent.

    Carbs. Used to compete in endurance athletics, and could eat like a pig. Once the competition ended, as well as the training, it was difficult to moderate caloric intake. I was always hungry until I cut carbs out as much as I could. Surprisingly, hunger abated with decreasing carbs.

    Currently at two meals with grazing in between. The once per day makes sense…but when to do it? Standard dinner time sounds about right…so the Bushmills will have something with which to mix.

    As an aside, looking to reduce Na intake, while increasing K, Mg, and Ca. One can eye all the different types of “good” fruits and vegetables, yet the big question remains, where were they grown? Are those above listed minerals even in the soil where the stuff was grown?

    With the above minerals listed, if to be ingested in proper amounts, is that one meal per day a pig out feast? All leads back to moderation, but that 36 hour fast period once per week does appear doable.

    • avatar Nancy says:

      “Currently at two meals with grazing in between. The once per day makes sense…but when to do it? Standard dinner time sounds about right…so the Bushmills will have something with which to mix”

      🙂

      Or even earlier? I’ve been on a meal & a half a day, for a few years (with occasional grazing in between) Big meal is usually between 3 & 4 in the afternoon. Of course that’s easier to do if you’re semi retired & don’t have kids.

      Healthy choices in food, is the key and that is sorely lacking in what’s produced anymore. There are at least 5 isles dedicated to nothing but junk food & drink, at the local Safeway.

      • avatar Immer Treue says:

        Healthy choices in food: there exists a branch of chemistry in the food industry that produces “stuff” that caters to taste buds…if it tastes good, eat it.

        Simple choices, perhaps a bit more expensive, but you eat less. That snickers bar is now replaced with a few squares of 85% cocoa dark chocolate, a kiwi, and a handful of almonds.

        Crock pots. The gods gift to those of us who don’t want to be bothered with complex meal preparations, throw the stuff in, spices to your desire, let it rip.

        Eggs, one or two? With cabbage, bell peppers and sriracha. Yogurt with cooking cocoa, yum. Unlike those formative years when seeing moms cooking cocoa, grabbing a spoonful and gagging on its bitter dryness.

        Always that handful of almonds.

        When one really thinks about it, the daily ritual is set up around those daily three squares, in particular for intact standard families(if those exist anymore).

        • avatar Ida Lupine says:

          “a few squares of 85% cocoa dark chocolate, a kiwi, and a handful of almonds.”

          +1 This sounds so good, and no palm oil added! Crock pot cooking is the best.

          I’ll usually have something for breakfast, never have been much for lunch, usually fruit or something, and dinner in the evening. Tend to be a grazer, left to my own devices. I don’t eat red meat or pork.

        • avatar Nancy says:

          “Crock pots. The gods gift to those of us who don’t want to be bothered with complex meal preparations, throw the stuff in, spices to your desire, let it rip”

          Just make sure you keep liquids in it. Had a neighbor burn his cabin down this past winter when he forgot to check the liquid level. Since then, I’ve heard other horror stories about crock pots overheating and scorching countertops.

        • avatar Nancy says:

          “Eggs, one or two? With cabbage, bell peppers and sriracha”

          How about 2 scrambled with spinach, goat cheese and shaved parmesan, on a thin slice of buttered, sourdough bread?

          What makes the meal even more delightful, is being able to look out my kitchen window and watching the chickens, who laid the eggs, scratching around in my yard 🙂

          Unlike where most eggs come from, in major food chain stores (not a video for the faint hearted but they are the ones that should make an effort to understand how their food arrives on grocery shelves)

  10. avatar rork says:

    As always, I will note that just asking or trying to persuade people to reduce may not be the most effective way of getting them to reduce consumption. The external costs could be reflected in the price – we have the knowledge. Surely our great, great new leader will set us on this course, along with our prudent, wise, and long-visioned legislators on both sides. Right after the carbon tax legislation, and taxing the rich more.

    • avatar rork says:

      I bought some pig toploin in Feb. 8.0 pounds, $12.04, I remember down to the cent, cause it felt like stealing, and I knew the wife and daughter would be critics. I wondered how it was possible. I’ve used 5 of 12 packages I made from it, usually when bro-in-law or mom-in-law is over. There are many sins on the side I’m not paying for. We have factories here thanks partly to low food transportation costs – the fields around the main buildings are usually fertilized from the pigs, and the crops feed the pigs.

  11. avatar Moose says:

    Entomofarms.com
    Cricket protein

    Insect farming is the future for an expanding population.

    You don’t need acres of land…or pesticides.

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