Eating Meat Is Green

Here's what you can say to critics who claim the way you raise livestock is bad for the environment.

Published on: Sep 9, 2011

Stumped at what to say to someone who argues eating meat is bad for the environment?

Check out how a young mother from Kentucky, who blogs as the "The Food Mommy," responds. It might give you some talking points for the next time you run into a passionate meat critic:

Eating meat can be the green thing to do

I have read several blog posts and comments recently regarding the livestock industry's negative impact on the environment, and I have made sure to provide a different view point to each. My guess is that since most of us aren't willing to give up meat based on health or welfare/right claims, some are trying to pull at our "I care about Mother Earth" heartstrings. Below are some myths/facts about the environmental sustainability of livestock production that I helped compile for my 9 to 5 job last fall.

Meat is in for our environment

The agriculture industry is constantly evolving. Today's farmers are producing more food using less land and resources—an important fact considering that global food demand will double within the next 50 years. Farmers are showing their commitment to land conservation and sustainability time and time again.

Myths and facts

Myth: By eating less meat, Americans will improve the environment and free land and resources for the production of more plant crops to feed the world's hungry.

Fact: Americans who eat both animals and plants are managing the nation's natural resources in the best way possible to feed its people. For example, about half the land area of the U.S. can't be used for growing crops—it can only be used for grazing. That land would be of no use as a food resource if it were not for grazing livestock like cattle, goats and sheep. Grazing animals in the United States more than doubles the area that can be used to produce food while limiting soil erosion, preserving wildlife habitat and reducing the risk of wildfires.

Myth: Meat production is not an efficient use of grain.

Fact: Environmentalists have devised some pretty creative ways to blow the feed needed to produce meat out of proportion. There are many factors of meat and grain production that are not being considered. As for beef cattle, most are grazed for the majority of their lives, and they are eating low quality forages in which humans cannot utilize. If and when beef cattle are placed on grain rations (corn and soybeans), it is fed with additional forage material. Many livestock producers are utilizing grain byproducts from biofuel and milling industries. This feed is higher in protein, fat and digestible fiber and results in similar if not better weight gain.

Myth: Meat production is a large contributor of greenhouse gases.

Fact: Animal agriculture has minimal impact on greenhouse gas production in the United States. All animals naturally produce the greenhouse gas methane by way of food digestion, but according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the entire U.S. agricultural sector contributed only 6.4 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2006.

Consumers may also hear that animals raised in a feedlot or in modern production systems create more methane than animals raised alternative ways. According to a report on beef released by the Hudson Institute's Center For Global Food Issues, pound-for-pound, beef produced in a conventional feeding system generates 40 percent less greenhouse gas emissions and uses two-thirds less land than beef produced using organic and grass-fed production systems.

Myth: Meat production creates large amounts of water-polluting manure.

Fact: The efficiency of manure use to support crop production is the critical metric. Because of the nutrient and organic matter content, manure is an alternative to commercial fertilizers with the added benefit of substantial energy savings. For example, in the case of corn production, energy savings from the substitution of swine manure for commercial fertilizer result in net energy savings on the order of 31 to 34 percent. And all farmers ensure proper conservation is practiced to protect our water supply. They drink it too.

Other stories and resources

Other stories andresources on food/meat production and environment:

Vegan Visits a Feedlot -- Ryan Andrews is a registered nutritionist, exercise physiologist and a strict vegetarian. So when he visits a 20,000-head Colorado feedyard and writes about the experience, you might expect the usual rants about factory farming, abusive conditions and animals "pumped full of hormones and antibiotics." But no, his article actually offers an objective summary based on his personal observations and research, touching on environmental management, nutrition, and animal health. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/cattle-feedlot-visit

Ex-Hippie/Ecologist says vegans have it wrong and eating animals in moderation is good for the planet and only logical: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/food/article-1316382/Carnivores-rejoice-Eating-meat-good-planet.html#ixzz1107TrgmY

More links to information can be found at www.kylivestock.org/steakoutthefacts/.

You may also be interested in the Food Mommy's June 2010 post - Why I Choose to Eat Meat: http://foodmommy.blogspot.com/2010/06/why-i-choose-to-eat-meat.html

Source: ND Farm Bureau