The Greens Can Take Away My Steak the Moment They Pry It from My Cold, Dead Hands

by William Yeatman on February 19, 2009

in Blog

I have been a steak snob ever since I apprenticed under a master butcher in Ojai Valley, California a few years back. Indeed, I’m the kind of guy who orders his steak so rare that the people dining at the table next to me get uncomfortable.

So it is with rising dread that I witness the greenies’ assault on the beef industry. Enviro-types have long hated cattlemen for treating cows like animals, but recently, they’ve found a new motive to attack providers of delicious red meat: climate change.

According to the latest in the “It’s easy being green” series run by the Center for American Progress, “it’s worth taking a closer look” at beef production, for “the planet’s sake,” because industrial scale livestock farming has a big carbon footprint. The piece references a 2006 study that compares “a Toyota Prius, which uses about one fourth as much as fuel as a Chevrolet Suburban SUV, to a plant-based diet, which uses roughly one-fourth as much energy as a diet rich in red meat.”

How about a steak tax, America? After all, the greens put gas-guzzling SUV’s (God bless ‘em) in their cross-hairs, and came out on top-they forced through new fuel efficiency regulations that have saddled an ailing Detroit with a $100 billion burden. Can the cattleman be far behind?

280zman February 20, 2009 at 5:03 am

Well, if we're going to implement a steak tax, they should start with so-called "eco-friendly" grass-fed only beef. Compared to corn-fed beef (hmmmm, more delicious and tender IMHO), grass-only beef produces about 40% more CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions per pound. Grass-fed cattle produce about twice as much methane, which more than makes up for higher CO2 from fertilizer, etc. on corn acres needed to feed the cattle.

See this Hudson Institute report:

Not only Hudson, but also the "German Institute for Ecological Economy Research" wrote in August 2008: "The production of one kilo of grass-fed beef causes the same amount of emissions as driving 70.4 miles in a compact car. Because of more intensive production methods, producing one kilo of conventional beef is the equivalent of driving only 43.9 miles." Interestingly, this is just about exactly 40%, the same conclusion as the Hudson paper.

Of course, the whole thing is meaningless because there's no actual evidence outside of the computer fantasy world that GHGs have ANYTHING to do with global climate/temperatures.

I STEPPED IN WHAT February 22, 2009 at 10:34 am

I think putting the number of miles driven in a car against carbon emissions for corn versus grass raised cattle only creates confusion and it is an unproductive and even unfair comparison. Is that why one type of beef is better than another; because I am eating something that produced more or less carbon?

What the conventional beef producers haven't added in is the carbon emissions produced from the growing of #2 corn which constitutes the primary diet of all conventionally fed cows. Between the use of their gas guzzling farming implements, the use of herbicides and pesticides (all made from oil) and the ancillary use of fuel to transport and distribute the cattle feed, the carbon footprint for corn fed beef is far higher then natural and reneweable grass fed cows source.

It was Nixon's Secretary of Ag who switched the grading of beef to reflect "marbling" as the most desirable quality interestingly fitting in nicely with what feeding a beef cow prodcues when fed primarily corn. There was tremendous pressure and incentive to abandon alternating crops and embrace a mono corn culture. A good benchmark is when colas switched from using sugar cane to corn syrup. This in turn has created massive soil depletion and groudwater contamination through parts of the Midwest.

The cow has a rumine, a four chambered stomach like organ, it is a known and accepted fact that a cow can not live if fed only corn and one of a only a few mammals that can derive all of its nutritional requirements from the eating of only grass. This is why when conventional corn fed cows are born they are not given corn for awhile and at the end of their life before slaughter, as very sick animals, they are also fed grass again to get them healthy before being turned into a yummy steak. The only reason beef cows are given antibotics and supplements is to maximize the amount of harvestable meat the animal can produce through artifical means.

Also it is important and hardly ever mentionned that the standard beef cow is not indigenous to America but rather an imported animal from England and Italy. The US has created a massive industry around an animal that doesn't have any business living here with the support of that industry polluting our citizens and our land.

Anyone that has worked with cows knows they are incredibly stupid animals. They can be standing in feet of beautiful grass and refuse to eat. They can have clean water right in front of them and they won't touch a drop. In storms and bad weather they can end up in places where only the most febrile of mind creatures would go. In general corn fed cows are a weak animal.

I love eating meat but have become more and more selective about what kind of meat I put into me. Pound for pound the only healthy red meat to eat is buffalo or some selective free pastured grass fed cows. Everything else is just not good for you. Maybe you can channel the spirit of Elvis and have a discussion about the 45 some pounds of impacted beef in his colon and what that did for his health?

280Zman February 23, 2009 at 5:18 am

I Stepped In What, you're simply wrong and shows that you haven't done even rudimentary homework other than ubber-shallow internet activist website surfing.

To wit: The analyses cited (Hudson Inst, GIEER, UN) ALL include the GHG emissions from growing the feed corn (fertilizer, pesticides, field operations, etc.) in their accounting of GHG emissions. Most of the GHG emissions from corn-fed beef is in the nitrogen fertilizer. Pesticides are tiny because they spray such miniscule volumes on today's modern farms. Feed transport is a minor issue, as well, as it is mostly moved via rail and ships, which are incredibly efficient per unit of bulk transport. Feed transport for Japanese Wagyu cattle, i.e. ultra-expensive Kobe beef (where the feed/forage is shipped >18,000 km) has been calculated at 14% of total "global warming contribution" in a Total Life Cycle Assessment by Ogino et al. in J Anim. Science (2004). These animals were grain-finished for more than twice as long as typical U.S. beef cattle. So, reasonably, feed transport in the U.S. (where the animals are fed grain for half the time and the transport distances are a small fraction of those from the U.S. to Japan) will account for no more than 3-4% of total GHG emissions per lb of beef.

Inescapable factual conclusion: when all GHG sources in these production systems are accounted for, grass-fed beef produces at least a third more CO2-equivalent GHG per pound of final product.

Allow me to illuminate further: If you read the UN's report on this topic or the Hudson report or Ogino or any other scientific paper on this subject (as opposed to organic/grass-fed website dogma), you'll learn that grass-fed cows produce roughly twice as much methane per pound of finished beef as corn-fed animals. This is due to biological fact: bacteria in the cattle rumen breaking down high-cellulose feeds like grass produce about twice as much methane as when they are given easy-to-digest corn (starch). The UN IPCC considers methane to be 23 TIMES more powerful a GHG per unit than CO2. So while the corn-fed cows are "responsible" for more significantly higher emissions of CO2 per pound of beef (mostly fertilizer for corn production), this is well more than offset by the higher methane emissions from digesting grass. For the Hudson analysis to be wrong, you'll have to say the UN IPCC is wrong — but I doubt you'll go there.

As for your ridiculous claims of cattle fed grain being unhealthy, or cattle so stupid they won't eat good grass or drink clean water: you reveal ignorance and bias. My folks run a 150-acre cow-calf operation and I've visited dozens and dozens of cattle feedlots. Toured nearly a dozen abitoirs (slaughter houses). Been in the business for decades. I don't recognize ANYTHING of what you claim. Corn cropping with modern, no-till methods (using herbicides) actually builds soil structure and reduces soil loss to below zero or near zero. In fact, here is a recent peer-reviewed paper from several very pro-organic USDA researchers who found soil erosion risk on No-till fields was 80% lower than Organic and old-style chisel-tillage cropping methods:

Monocultures are bad? tell that to the natural monocultures of wild rye, cattails, etc. found around the world! Tell that to the 99.999% of organic farmers who plant monocultures. If you mispoke and instead meant "lack of rotations of monoculture crops", this is mostly an economic issue, not sustainability issue, as demonstrated by the USDA research I cited above.

Before you comment, I suggest actually visiting a farm and understanding what they do and why and looking at actual science, rather than just driving by and arrogantly proclaiming "good" or "bad" based on current anti-business Lefty Activist dogma. The planet will thank you.

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