Can We Save the Cows and Eat Them, Too?

Another report has been released stating that climate change will be the end of us if we don’t act fast and drastically. Reducing our carbon footprint is imperative to slowing the effects and prolonging humanity’s time here on Earth.

One of the quickest choices that many promote as a way for individuals to reduce their impacts on the environment is eliminating meat – specifically beef – from their diets.

Can We Save the Cows and Eat Them, Too?

Stop Eating Cows

In order to produce beef, cows require 28 times more land, need 11 times more irrigated water, produce 5 times more greenhouse gases, and use 6 times more fertilizer than pork, chicken, dairy, or egg production. In the United States, beef requires 7-10 kilograms of feed to produce 1 kilogram of edible protein. 13 billion hectares of land are deforested every year in order to create space for both livestock and feed production. Approximately 65% of livestock greenhouse gas emissions are from beef.

And besides the resources it takes to maintain cows, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report in 2015 to say that meat isn’t terribly great for our health.

So it follows economic principle that by decreasing demand, the supply will decrease, right?

Maybe.

Incentivizing Everyone in the Foodchain

The recently released report encourages governing bodies to implement stronger regulations in order to substantially curb the impacts of global warming.

So how does that happen with the beef industry? What happens to the cows? What happens to the farmers? What happens to everyone whose livelihood depends on beef?

People and businesses have dedicated themselves to supporting the beef industry. As a result, some could left with a limited set of skills, while others would be left with a failing business, both of which are vulnerable to the ever-changing landscape of consumerism and innovation.

So how do we incentivize people and businesses to change their practices?

This would be the perfect time for governments to set an example of how to help their people transition from a toxic industry into a thriving one. It won’t be easy to simply shut down farms and processing facilities and convert them into crop-producing farms.

What is the environmental impact of raising beef?

Healthier Cows, Healthier Planet

If the majority of the beef-eating world were to stop eating beef tomorrow, there would still be cows. It isn’t really responsible (or possible) to just let the cows loose on the land, nor can we slaughter them all at once.

One option for farmers raising beef is to convert their land to pastures – grazing cattle require less than 1 kilogram of protein from feed to produce 1 kilogram of edible protein in the form of both meat and dairy. The resulting product from grazing cattle is also higher quality than industrially farmed beef. Alternatively, they could convert their land to raising crops (hydroponics or otherwise) instead of cows.

All of this is easier said than done, of course. Farmers would need to off-load equipment, purchase new equipment, re-train employees, and meet a new set of standards. They would essentially be starting a whole new business.

They could, however, at least work towards healthier, more ethical forms of farming. Tech start-up Connecterra developed the app Ida for dairy farmers to track the health of their herd. By tracking patterns and behavior, the app can provide insights into abnormalities in order to prevent widespread illness. Connecterra has also recently teamed up with the Internet of Food and Farm to improve sustainable farming practices for The Happy Cow Project.

Final Thoughts

States are making a pledge for renewable energy, and cities are encouraging zero-waste efforts, both of which are admirable and important. But it’s time for the major players to step up and commit to decreasing our contributions to global warming. Creating incentives for beef farmers is a great place to get the moovement going.


SOURCES

LIVESTOCK AND LANDSCAPES” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Raising Beef Uses Ten Times More Resources Than Poultry, Dairy, Eggs or Pork” Rachel Nuwe, Smithsonian Magazine Online, July 21, 2014.

More Fuel for the Food/Feed Debate” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Is the Livestock Industry Destroying the Planet?” Alastair Bland, Smithsonian Magazine Online, August 1, 2012.

Edible Insects – Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security.” Food and Agriculture Orgainization of the United Nations

Land, Irrigation Water, Greenhouse Gas, and Reactive Nitrogen Burdens of Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Production in the United StatesGidon Eshel, Alon Shepon, Tamar Makov, and Ron Milo, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Summer 2014.

Tackling Climate Change through Livestock” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Author: Sterling Schuyler

Sterling writes to put broad statements into real context. She enjoys conducting in-depth research in order to bring factual integrity to any topic, especially anything about food. Whether it's the ethics of food science or the tale of a family-owned business, Sterling loves to breathe life and substance into these stories. In her downtime, she enjoys gardening, playing board games and video games, and writing for her personal blog The Asian Craving.

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