By Sherry Bunting, published April 22 Register-Star (Greene Media)
A world without cattle would be no world at all.
The health of the dairy and livestock economies are harbingers of the economic health of rural America … and of the planet itself. Here’s some food for thought as we recently celebrated Earth Day and as climate change talks are in the news and as researchers increasingly uncover proof that dietary animal protein and fat is healthy for the planet and its people.
How many of us still believe the long refuted 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, which stated that 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, worldwide, come from livestock, and mostly from cattle?
This number continues to show up in climate-change policy discussion even though it has been thoroughly refuted and dismissed by climate-change experts and biologists, worldwide.
A more complete 2006 study, by the top global-warming evaluators, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stated that the greenhouse gas emissions from all of agriculture, worldwide, is just 10 to 12 percent. This includes not only livestock emissions, but also those from tractors, tillage, and production of petroleum based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
Hence, the UN Environmental Program disputed the UN FAO assertion to state the percentage of emissions from total agriculture, worldwide, is 11 percent, and that cattle — as a portion of that total — are responsible for a tiny percentage. While cattle contribute a little over two percent of the methane gas via their digestive system as ruminants (like deer, elk, bison, antelope, sheep and goats), they also groom grasslands that cover over one-quarter of the Earth’s total land base, and in so doing, they facilitate removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to be tied up in renewable grazing plant material above and below the ground — just like forests do!
Think about this for a moment. The UN Environmental Program and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are in agreement that cattle and other livestock are not the problem the anti-meat and anti-animal-ag folks would have us believe. In fact, they are in many ways a major solution.
Think about the fact that man’s most necessary endeavor on planet Earth — the ongoing production of food — comes from the agriculture sector that in total accounts for just 11 percent of emissions!
Why, then, are major environmental groups and anti-animal groups so fixated on agriculture, particularly animal agriculture, when it comes to telling consumers to eat less meat and dairy as a beneficial way to help the planet? Why, then, has the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Council pushed that agenda in its preliminary report to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, that somehow the Earth will be better sustained if we eat less meat?
They ignore the sound science of the benefits livestock provide to the Earth. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say what Nicolette Niman has written in her widely acclaimed book “Defending Beef” that, “Cattle are necessary to the restoration and future health of the planet and its people.”
Niman is a trained biologist and former environmental attorney as well as the wife of rancher Bill Niman. She is a vegetarian as a personal choice, but she has gathered the data to overturn the myths that continue to persist falsely in the climate-change debate, and her book is loaded with indisputable facts and figures that debunk the “sacred cows” of the anti-animal agenda:
- Eating meat causes world hunger. Not true. In fact, livestock are not only a nutrient dense food source replacing much more acreage of vegetation for the same nutritive value, livestock are deemed a “critical food” that provides “critical cash” for one billion of the planet’s poorest people — many of whom live where plant crops cannot be grown.
- Eating meat causes deforestation. Not true. Forests, especially in Brazil, are cleared primarily for soybean production. Approximately 85 percent of the global soybean supply is crushed resulting in soybean oil used to make soy products for human consumption and soybean meal for animal consumption. A two-fer.
- Eating meat, eggs and full-fat dairy products are the cause of cardiovascular disease. Greatly in question. Researchers are re-looking at this failed advice that has shaped 40-years of American dietary policy. Its source was the 1953 Keys study, which actually showed no causative link! Meanwhile, excessive dietary carbohydrates have replaced fats in the diet, which turn to more dangerous forms of fat as we metabolize them than if we had consumed the natural saturated fats themselves.
- Cattle overgrazing has ruined the western prairies. Not so. While improper grazing can have a localized detrimental effect, the larger issue is the pervasive negative effect that is largely coming from not grazing enough cattle. Higher stocking densities that are rotated actually improve the health of grasslands. Large herds provide the activity that loosens, aerates and disperses moisture along with the nutrients the cattle return to the soil — for more vigorous grass growth and soil retention — much as 30 million buffalo and antelope groomed the prairies two centuries ago. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management has favored controlled burns over grazing and is taking away land rights our federal government once shared with ranchers. BLM reductions in allowable stocking densities have initiated a land-grabbing cycle of ranchers losing their land and livelihoods while the land is robbed of its benefits.
The anti-animal agenda continues — groundless, yet powerful. Rural economies, farm families, consumers and the Earth pay the price.
The majority of the lifecycle of supermarket beef and dairy products is rooted in grooming the grasslands and forage croplands that are vital to the Earth and its atmosphere. In addition, farmers and ranchers reduce tillage by planting winter cattle forage to hold soil in place, improve its organic matter and moisture-holding capacity, provide habitat for wildlife while providing temporary weed canopy between major crop plantings. Not only do cattle eat these harvested winter forages, they dine on crop residues and a host of other food byproducts that would otherwise go to waste.
Whether organic, or conventional, our planet needs livestock and the farmers and ranchers who care for them. They not only feed us — with more high quality dietary protein, calcium, zinc, and iron per serving than plant-based sources — they also feed the planet.
Enjoy your meat and dairy products without fear — certainly without guilt — and with gratefulness for the men and women who work daily caring for the land and its animals and for the animals, themselves, which in the cycle of life sustain our existence, our economies, and our environment.
A former newspaper editor, Sherry Bunting has been writing about dairy, livestock and crop production for over 30 years. Before that, she milked cows. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images by Sherry Bunting