Can Eating Meat Be Environmentally Friendly?

Q: I am very concerned about climate change and I hear bad things about livestock contributing to the problem. When I eat meat I am supporting the cattle industry. Is that good or bad for the planet?

A:  Part of AOC’s bold Green New Deal (GND) proposal is that farmers and ranchers must produce greenhouse-gas-free food. By that I don’t think she’s referring to beans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, and cauliflower. The GND proposal is aimed at eliminating meat from the human diet meaning that raising cattle must stop. The reasoning is that ruminants expel methane gas and are therefore major contributors to global warming. In place of meat, AOC says: “Give your tummy a break! Skip meat/dairy for a meal (easiest is bfast, I do banana & peanut butter).” That is a  quote from her twitter message regarding a recent school assembly she addressed “w/ teens in Queens.”

This viewpoint by vegetarians and PETA organizations exhibits considerable ignorance in how life in the world has always functioned. Yes, all ruminants expel methane gas. So do all other animals, insects (especially termites), bacteria, and . . . humans. That’s because the source of the gas is vegetative material. When vegetation rots, burns, or is digested, methane gas is released. On the other hand, as vegetative material grows above/below ground and in water, carbon gases are sequestered.

Denigrating meat and blaming cattle for global warming is a huge stretch. The world’s surface is covered 71% by water. That means 29% of the world’s surface is land. Of the land portion, 33% is desert, 31% forests, 11% crops, and roughly 25% is pastureland which includes cultivated or wild forage crops for animals as well as open land used for grazing.

Probably more than 95% of the world’s pastureland is naturally irrigated and not suitable for crops. What grows best on that land is grasses. Unfortunately humans cannot utilize grass for food even though it’s the foundation food for all animal life. Yet grasses provide essential nutrients including the 1:1 balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). So it’s a good thing ruminants have a unique digestive systems that allow them to thrive on grasses and, because we have acidic digestive systems, we are able to eat ruminants to our benefit.

What happens in the cycle of life is that as grasses gain energy from the sun and nutrients from the soil and air, they grow and sequester carbon gasses. Some animals eat those grasses for energy and nutrients. As they grow, they generate fertilizer and release the carbon gasses. Other animals (predators) eat the ruminants for energy and nutrients creating more fertilizer. The grasses grow back and the cycle continues.

Life in our world has operated that way for the past 400 million plus years. Then along came man and he replaced some of the wild, less efficient ruminants with more efficient cattle. Then he restricted the wild carnivores so more ruminants survived for his benefit.

The grasslands are the same as they’ve always been. The buffalo were replaced by cattle. The wolves, lions, and other predators were replaced by man. The age old cycle is continuing as it has for hundreds of million of years but with different animals.

Ending cattle ranching means the grasslands will not be harvested as they were for all of time. Unless grasses are eaten by a ruminant, they will grow, mature, and die. Some residue will rot and release gases. Some residue will burn (like in California’s Camp Fire where 14,000 residences were destroyed) and release gasses. Some will smother next year’s grass growth slowing sequestration while gasses keep escaping. If wild ruminates eventually take over and the predators return, then what will have changed in the big picture in favor of mankind and the environment?

The answer is: Nothing. That’s because the same cycle we’re experiencing now will continue like it has for all of time. And if we replace grass-fed meats for bananas and peanut butter, I can guarantee you that “free” healthcare costs will soar and very few Americans will be capable of working even if they wanted to.