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October 2005 after the first frost and summer grasses had turned brown.  The growth of winter grasses was delayed by the drought.

Climate-Friendly Food

Column #191

Frank M. Mitloehner, a professor at the University of California, Davis, is on a mission. He’s constantly promoting climate friendly foods and explaining where meat products rank in terms of friendliness. As an Air Quality Extension Specialist he knows how to make a very compelling pitch, but should we listen to him?

I was reading an article he wrote and its first link was to an article from Fortune Magazine titled “How Your Diet Can Save the Planet.” You get the drift of that article from this quote: “Conscious consumers are making the world a better place by following the three ‘R’s of eating: ‘reducing’ and ‘replacing’ consumption of animal products and ‘refining’ our diets by choosing products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards. These types of ideas have become mainstream.”

Yes, for meat producers that’s disturbing rhetoric especially from a mainstream business magazine. But did I mention that instead of being a wild-eyed, frizzy haired PETA fan, Dr. Mitloehner is a Professor of Animal Science? Now do I have your attention? Well, Dr. Mitloehner is a man to reckon with because of instead participating in a lot of frenzied arm waving while spouting scaremongering anti-meat stories like the one in Fortune Magazine, he is heavily science based. In the end, I thought his story was very compelling and we should all take notice.

For years his research has focused on how animal agriculture affects air quality and climate change. He is not against vegetables although he strongly believes that leaving meat out of the diet can have harmful nutritional consequences. And for a fact he says foregoing meat is not the environmental panacea that many promote.

Mitloehner says that the assertion livestock are the world’s largest source of greenhouse gases (GHG) is patently false. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) its  estimates for GHG emissions are that 28% comes from the production of electricity, 28% from transportation, and 22% from industry. Combined farming and ranching activities comprise only 9% of which animal agriculture represents a mere 3.9%.

The idea that Americans could help the climate by avoiding meat once a week is highly flawed. One recent study indicated that a total elimination of meat proteins would reduce GHG emissions by only 2.6%. His University of California research indicates that if all Americans practiced Meatless Mondays, GHG emissions would be reduced by a slight 0.5% which would be difficult to detect.

He points to another interesting statistic from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Since 1961, GHG emissions from U.S. livestock have declined 11.3% while meat production has more than doubled. The reason is that in the past 70 years technological, genetic, and management changes have made livestock production more efficient and less GHG intensive.

Mitloehner likes to point out the importance of meat in the diet. He says if meat is eliminated to marginally reduce GHG emissions, the unintended consequence will mean it’s harder for humans to meet their nutritional requirements. Many vegetarians point out that if farmers raised only plants, they could produce more pounds of food and more calories per person. What they ignore are that grains are high glycemic, often fungus hosts, and loaded with Omega-6 fatty acids well in excess of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Not all plants are edible. Grasses and leaves are mostly cellulose which humans cannot digest. This is a predicament since the FAO and others say that 70% of the world’s agricultural land is rangeland that only ruminant livestock can utilize as a food source. Consequently raising livestock on grasslands not only creates nutritional value but economic value. He points out that meat is more nutrient-dense per serving than vegetarian options and raising livestock provides much-needed income for small-scale farmers in developing nations. Worldwide, livestock provides a livelihood for one billion people.

Overall Mitloehner sees numerous advantages to livestock rearing. Livestock have an insignificant GHG-emissions impact. Livestock utilize grasslands that cannot otherwise produce food for humans. Meat ranks as one of the most nutrient dense and diverse of all foods while providing income to ranchers worldwide. All of that makes meat one of the world’s friendliest foods in more ways than one!

To your health.

Ted Slanker

Ted Slanker has been reporting on the fundamentals of nutritional research in publications, television and radio appearances, and at conferences since 1999. He condenses complex studies into the basics required for health and well-being. His eBook, The Real Diet of Man, is available online.

Don’t miss these links for additional reading:

Frank M. Mitloehner, Ph.D. Professor of Animal Science and Air Quality Extension Specialist, University of California, Davis

Yes, Eating Meat Affects the Environment, but Cows Are Not Killing the Climate by Frank M. Mitloehner PhD.

Nutritional and Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Removing Animals from US Agriculture by Robin R. White and Mary Beth Hall

Clearing the Air: Livestock’s Contribution to Climate Change by Maurice E. Pitesky, Kimberly R. Stackhouse, and Frank M. Mitloehner

Holistic Land Management by Alan Savory

Climate Friendly Food Guide (A Classic Antiscience Hit Job)

How Your Diet Can Save the Planet from Fortune Magazine (Another Hit Job)