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Want to be an Environmentalist? Eat more beef!

Regardless of your position on global warming and the level of influence humans have on the environment, it is certainly in the interest of each individual to improve the environment around us. One important way we can help the environment and improve our health simultaneously is to eat more grass fed beef. How can eating beef help the environment? Many people believe that beef and dairy cattle hurt the environment by consuming significant grain crops and water, and by the waste they produce. In fact, the current conventional way most beef and dairy cattle are raised, in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is a drain on resources and the environment. However, blame the system, not the cow. Cattle raised in the natural grazing manner, grass fed and finished, provides many benefits: they improve the health of the land they graze (unlike grain crops which require soil depleting tillage), they allow the grasslands to sequester more carbon from the atmosphere (more than trees), and they convert inedible pasture to edible beef, milk and cheese, providing large amounts of Omega-3 rich, protein rich food with very little needed human labor.

In contrast, CAFO raised cattle require seven to eight pounds of corn or soy feed to produce each pound of beef. Because cattle are not evolved to eat grains such as these, they require antibiotics so they don't get sick. Cattle are fed hormones to accelerate their growth. Feed is typically trucked in from many miles away, yet another drain on the environment and resources. While conventional cattle farmers were just responding to market demands for cheap beef and milk, in the end they unwittingly created environmental and health problems for both cattle and humans. Maybe we should just become vegetarians and eat grains and vegetables?

But wait, most corn, soy and wheat crops , as well as conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, are huge monoculture crops treated with chemical pesticides and herbicides, and require regular tillage (churning) of the soil in order to grow. These practices deplete the soil and require replacement of nitrogen and other elements through chemical fertilization. All this product to treat the plants and replenish the soil is trucked in from far away, burning a lot of fuel and potentially damaging the environment. Additionally, agricultural runoff (rainwater infused with nitrogen, phosphorus, pesticides, etc.) bleeds into lakes, estuaries and other waterways causing terrible environmental problems. Many bodies of water are so contaminated from crop based runoff, they are unsafe for humans. Check out Lake Apopka in central Florida for just one example.

There is a better way to raise and grow our food and it is not new. By letting cattle graze on grasslands, as they evolved and were bred to do over millenia, we improve state of the cow, our own health, and the environment.

First, when a cow grazes in a herd on natural grasses in a farmer's field, it mimics what it's ancestors did on the open prarie since cattle evolved. It is eating a nutrient rich, omega-3 rich "salad bar" of food which ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats are suited for and can convert to very healthful body mass. Cattle fed this way are healthy, requiring little to no medications, and from what I understand are comfortable and stress free during their lives.

Second, the meat, milk and cheese produced from grass fed cattle are higher in healthy Omega-3 fatty acids and lower in Omega-6 fatty acids (which we get too much of in our diets). Historically, humans ate a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fats of about 1 to 1. Today, that ratio is often 10 to 1, or even 25 to 1. This is unhealthy and a contributor to inflammation in our bodies. Seed oils such as corn or soybean up our intake of Omega-6 oils. Even chicken and pork have much higher ratios of Omega-6 to Omega-3 than cows. Cattle that are grass fed are ideal for human consumption of these healthy fats. Also, the protein is very nutritious, in addition to being extremely satiating, curbing our hunger which helps prevent overeating.

Third, and most germane to the title of this post, grass fed cows are very good for the environment. When a cow is pasture fed, it does not require any grain crops to be grown and shipped in to be fed. So, less acreage of soy and corn is required to feed the cows and less fuel has to be burned. Now, suppose we converted some of that grain crop acreage to grazing pasture. Instead of a regular cycle of tillage, chemical weed and pest killers, and fertilizers (all bad for the environment), we have a pasture of various perrenial grasses and weeds. These grasses and weeds absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and expel oxygen. This is a good thing. Cows make it even better. How? When cows eat grasses, they are essentially providing a pruning function for the plants. Just like we prune a rose bush to regenerate and grow better, pruned grasses are more able to regrow and regenerate instead of dying off and emitting carbon dioxide into the air. Roots grow deeper and sequester even more carbon. Cows also trample the grasses which breaks the soil crust, helps seeding,knocks down weeds, mulches and composts plant material. Additionally, the pastured cows produce a 100% organic fertilizer (aka cow patties) to fertilize the pastures they graze. Properly managed cow pastures are among the healthiest, beautiful and environmentally friendly land you will find in this country.

One of the best ways we as comsumers can promote a healthy environment is to increase our consumption of grass fed beef. By increasing demand, the market will signal more farmers to increase production, hence requiring more damaged and degraded land to be converted into grazing grasslands. This will help improve the air and water around us and make the world a better place, all while improving our own health.

So, grab some grass fed steak and throw it on the grill! Start today!

Posted December 07, 2018 by Tim Rankin