Steve Brooks, Published September 01 2012
Letter: PETA’s beef ‘facts’ not factualAs a lifelong Slope County farmer and rancher, I know firsthand the toll the near-nationwide drought has taken on agriculture. According to the National Climatic Data Center, 57 percent of the nation’s pasture and rangeland, 48 percent of the nation’s corn crop and 37 percent of the nation’s soybean crop were rated in poor to very poor condition. The situation is no different in my area, where many in our neighborhood didn’t get a hay crop and are short on grass. So, yes, it is dry enough for me.
But that’s where my agreement with PETA’s Heather Moore ends. Her guest column (“Go vegan during drought,” Aug. 17) promoting veganism in response to the drought is full of faulty, illogical assertions.
Not just meat
While Moore would like you to think that consumers will see only a spike in meat prices, that’s false. In fact, all foods are likely to increase in price because of the drought, and this may be even a more acute problem for vegans, whose diets are often largely based on crops that have suffered from reduced yields. In the short-term, consumers are actually likely to see a reduction in meat prices, as many producers are selling their cattle early, which will increase the short-term beef supply and likely make prices more attractive at the meat counter.
Moore gets it wrong when she talks about the efficiency of meat production, too. Instead of the inflated feed-to-food ratios she cites, it actually takes 2.3 pounds of grain to make a pound of chicken and 4 pounds of grain to make a pound of pork, according to Dr. Jude Capper, a Washington State University adjunct professor and world-renowned livestock sustainability expert who, incidentally, will be discussing some of her research at the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association convention in Fargo in late September.
Capper also points out in her writings that the concentrates fed to livestock include a significant proportion of byproducts from human feed and fiber production that cannot (or will not) be digested by humans, such as almond hulls and potato processing byproducts. Plus, until we grow rumens, humans cannot digest pasture. Cattle, on the other hand, are marvelous, herbivorous grazing creatures that can utilize human-inedible forage to produce animal protein, which, in turn, can be eaten (and enjoyed) by humans. Now that’s efficiency!
Science also disagrees with Moore’s claims about reducing meat intake to conserve water. In fact, peer-reviewed science relating to water use for beef has shown that PETA’s estimate is off nearly 12-fold.
Today’s cattle industry is significantly more environmentally sustainable than it was even 30 years ago. A study by Washington State University in 2007 found that today’s farmers and ranchers raise 13 percent more beef from 30 percent fewer cattle. When compared with beef production in 1977, each pound of beef raised today produces 16 percent less carbon emissions, takes 33 percent less land and requires 12 percent less water. In other words, you can be good to the environment and have your high-quality, nutrient-dense food source, too.
Bang for buck
Indeed, beef is a nutritional powerhouse. Packed with zinc, iron and protein, vitamins B12 and B6, niacin and selenium, beef not only helps you maximize the nutrients to keep your body healthy but also has been shown to further lower the risk of heart disease by reducing total cholesterol levels and, specifically, “bad” cholesterol. (Pennsylvania State University research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, December 2011.)
Consumers need to get the most bang for their buck, particularly as food prices escalate in response to extreme drought conditions throughout the country. Beef delivers that “bang” in a delicious, environmentally responsible, nutritious package.
Brooks ranches near Bowman, N.D., and is District 5 director for the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association.