The belief that meat production — especially raising cattle — causes global warming has been around since climate change stories began to land on the front page in the 1980s. At first, many people laughed it off as cattle and other animals have been on the planet for centuries, and it seemed unfathomable that all of a sudden people would believe that they could be causing so much methane and carbon dioxide that it threatened the planet’s existence.
That’s no longer the case. Since President Biden took office, it seems to be a repeating theme. And more Americans are repeating the claim.
Last week, in the advice column, Dear Annie, a reader wrote, “With an eye toward Earth Day, I wanted to encourage your readers to try going meatless (and preferably vegan) at least one day a week. Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all transportation combined. Annie responded in part. “Thanks for the letter. I’d encourage anyone to give plant-based a try, at least part of the time. It’s easier than you’d think.”
“GMA3,” which is shown on ABC-TV, presents news on healthy eating and lifestyles. Last week, it also was encouraging people to go meatless to save the planet.
Wow. That’s a lot of hot air circulating. But it is just a sample. Perhaps a review of some facts are needed.
Two years ago, researchers at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and Virginia Tech studied what the world would look like without animal agriculture in the U.S. The bottom line? We’d reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 2.6%, and 0.36% globally — but we’d also upset our balanced food ecosystem and lack essential dietary nutrients to feed all Americans.
That’s because cattle graze on land that is unsuitable for anything else. As Dr. Sara Place, a researcher with the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, said, “More than 85% of the land where we graze cattle is not suitable for growing crops because it is too rocky, steep and/or arid to support cultivated agriculture.”
She also notes that cattle accounts for the consumption of about 8 million acres of corn, about 2% of U.S. cropland acres.
Finally, she points out that cattle numbers have been stable in the U.S. for the last decade or so, but methane is increasing. So are cattle really to blame?
The bottom line is everyone wants a healthy and sustainable food system. Just as eating a balanced diet ultimately proves to be healthiest for most Americans, having a planet where people consume food of both plants and animals is the most sustainable. It has been since the beginning.