Debunking the myths about beef with the facts and truth

Jordan Vos, shown here speaking in 2018, has had many discussions with friends and coworkers who have stopped eating beef because they believe cattle are bad for the environment. Her approach is to stick to the facts.
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Jordan Vos, 21, of Burdett was the senior winner in the Alberta Young Speakers for Agriculture competition at the Calgary Stampede. She chose the topic: ‘Bust a myth in Canadian agriculture.’

Take a deep breath, smell the juicy burger with all the fixin’s… featuring an all-Canadian beef burger! Mmmm Mmmm!

One of the biggest myths in Canadian agriculture is: Cattle are killing the climate. Along with this, it is often said “Stop eating beef!” to do your part.

I have friends and co-workers who have made their decision to eat a plant-based diet. We have had many great discussions on their reasons for their decision. In many cases, their reasoning is the same: It is more environmentally friendly to not eat beef, or that raising beef cattle reduces biodiversity and resilience of the ecosystems.

The David Suzuki Foundation advocates for “meat-free meals” and organic local foods. I am all for supporting local, but the foundation’s claims on organics are based on vague and nameless studies.

I must not get angry when reading and hearing about these things.

Instead, I need to debunk these myths with facts and truth, along with my viewpoint. Speaking from my own experience along with detailed research, I completely disagree that cattle are the culprits to blame for climate change.

In 2006, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization released a report called Livestock’s Long Shadow. This report asserted that cattle were responsible for 18 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and concluded that livestock were doing more harm to the climate than all transportation forms combined.

This report didn’t compare them fairly.

It used the factors of the transport, production, and life processes of cattle, and pitted them only against the exhaust of transportation.

When you think about it logically, does it make sense that cattle eating grass and being shipped to market would have more impact than cars being produced en masse in a factory? Including the mining and production of the materials used to make them? I know this is definitely not the case.

The wonderful fact is that ranching has become more and more efficient.

The Beef Science Cluster funded a project in 2015 and discovered that Canada produced 32 per cent more beef in 2011 than in 1981. This is mostly due to larger carcass weights, but the really great news is that to produce the same amount of beef in 2011, it required 29 per cent less breeding stock, 27 per cent fewer slaughter cattle, 24 per cent less land, and produced 15 per cent less greenhouse gas than in 1981.

When discussing the greenhouse gases emitted by agriculture, the first thing that people get bothered by is cow burps and methane from their digestive systems. But every living thing produces greenhouse gases, including plants.

The Beef Cattle Research Council has explained that methane accounts for about 60 per cent of ranching’s emissions, but this number can be reduced. New advancements mean that natural remedies can be used to minimize the amount of methane produced by cattle. An example is using oregano to minimize the bacteria in the rumen. By decreasing bacteria, less methane is produced, and more energy is retained and stored in the animal. This can further increase the efficiency of the carcass.

In 2013, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization released a second, more balanced report titled Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock. This report didn’t have an effective way to compare both cattle and transportation either, but at least when it compared the direct emissions, it was 14 per cent from transportation, and only five per cent from old Betsy the cow and her species.

Cattle can’t possibly be killing the climate when Canadian ranchers actually have an edge in being sustainable. The prairie ecosystems have evolved to sequester carbon in large amounts and store it in their roots. When you cultivate the prairies for monocultural fields, not only is the diversity decreased, but carbon is released from these storage systems.

Did you know that prairies are more diverse on a smaller scale than rainforests? Cattle raised on natural prairie can preserve the native ecosystems, replacing the role of bison. When cattle are responsibly rotated through pastures, riparian and wetland zones flourish.

Songbirds and endangered species thrive on the prairies. Species such as burrowing owls, spadefoot toads, and sage grouse need the diversity of grasses.

Different species of grasses, flowering plants, shrubs, and trees all play a major role in increasing biodiversity. Beef cattle do contribute to the carbon emissions, but not nearly as much as farming monocultural field crops.

So I have a solution: Everyone just stop eating! Meat, vegetables, everything!

Is this feasible? Absolutely not!

With a growing global population, we have to continue to find sustainable ways to produce food.

Do we really need the metaphorical kick to get the ball rolling? I don’t believe it is the agricultural sector’s responsibility alone to reverse climate change. I do stand firm behind my custodians of the land… the farmer and rancher. They are out there in the field, learning about new advances and doing what they can to protect it for future generations.

Ultimately people like to place blame — because if cattle aren’t responsible for killing the climate, maybe we as humans are.

When I am discussing this topic with my friends and co-workers, I bring up these facts and truths, and debunk this myth in Canadian agriculture. I also state the fact that meat is more nutrient dense than vegetarian options, and that ruminants break down the undigestible cellulose of plants, so we can use the energy.

Personally, I love Canadian beef because I know it is sustainably grown to protect the beautiful prairies I call home.

And that juicy burger on my plate is so deliciously tasty.

Jordan Vos, 21, of Burdett, was the senior winner in the Alberta Young Speakers for Agriculture competition at the Calgary Stampede. She chose the topic: ‘Bust a myth in Canadian agriculture.’

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