Articles like the one we saw in the Mirror on June 24, 2018 (How to curb the environmental impact of beef) make me shake my head in frustration. Yes, there are many studies out by the United Nations and other institutions saying that beef is bad, bad, bad. In my opinion, these simplistic, one-dimensional articles (sorry, Wayne, if you wrote this one😊) leave out so much other information that one needs to make an informed opinion. As readers, we really need to be careful about making snap judgements based on a flurry of articles that make good press and tend to push us in a certain direction. These sorts of incomplete news flashes are prevalent these days and often are quietly sponsored by companies, organizations and agencies that have a pulpit to pound.
Let’s examine this article in a little more detail.
Are there downsides to our beef production today? You bet!
Keeping cattle in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is inhumane and unnatural. This is a manmade solution to providing cheap beef. However, the cost is higher than we think. That beef that you buy at Food Lion or a nearby restaurant:
- Pollutes local waterways
- Creates unhealthy environments for neighboring families
- Is fed with grains (not natural for cows) shipped from a long distance
- Is inclined to disease due to crowding and lack of sunshine
- Is administered antibiotics to speed up growth.
If we add the cost of cleaning up our waterways and air, the energy needed for feed transport and the health care needed for treating antibiotic-resistant infections we’d realize that we are paying for our hamburger in many ways.
So far, it’s looking pretty bad for beef, isn’t it? Here’s the other side of the story.
Beef is a nutrient-dense food containing a complete protein. The amino acids in protein are crucial for building and repairing cells and producing hormones and enzymes. Seeds and beans can also provide protein, but they don’t have all the essential amino acids that our body cannot produce. In addition, beef has critical minerals: taurine, carnitine, and magnesium which are beneficial for the eyes, heart and bio-electrical system. Vitamin B6 is important in the creation of hemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen in red blood cells which are produced by vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products and vegetarians need to resort to synthetic vitamins.
That steak you eat also contains lots of cholesterol. There are several schools of thought on this. Our physicians have been trained in medical school to follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and American Heart Association (AHA) guidance on cholesterol. Looking at the chart below (from The Marshall Protocol Knowledge Base) we can see how our USDA and AHA food policy has worked out for our citizens. While we have effectively combatted infectious diseases, heart disease deaths rose from 8% of the population in 1900 to 31.4% of the population in 1997. What did people eat in 1900? Lots of saturated fats in the form of lard, tallow, and butter. Vegetable oils along with abundant sugar became available in the early 1900s.
Cholesterol is important in the body. It helps to repair torn arteries by adding plaque on top of the damaged tissue. Rather than blame the cholesterol for the resulting blocked artery, shouldn’t we look for a cause for injured arteries?
Now let’s look at the environmental aspects of beef. There’s a brand-new study entitled “Assessing the Role of Cattle in Sustainable Food Systems” printed in the July/August 2018 issue of Nutrition Today. While the author, Donald K. Layman, PhD, has ties to industrial agriculture, and he tends to minimize the impacts of CAFOs, the article offers a different view of cattle production. He calls attention to the fact that “in 1800 there were approximately 80 million ruminant animals in the United States (i.e., buffalo, cows), and today there are approximately 90 million cattle; whereas in 1800, there were zero cars and trucks, and today there are more than 260 million vehicles on US highways. It is unlikely that cattle in the United States account for global climate change.”
He points out that the US Environmental Protection Agency reports greenhouse gas emissions in America as: “31% from electricity production, 27% from transportation, 21% from industry, 12% from commercial and residential buildings, and 9% from agriculture….The agriculture number can be further dissected as 4.2% from livestock, with approximately 2.2%, 1.4%, 0.5%, and 0.1% from beef, dairy, swine, and poultry, respectively.” Statistics from other countries with large amounts of cattle like India, Brazil and China may differ. Looking at these numbers, we can deduce that if 4.2% of greenhouse gases come from livestock, other agricultural activities amount to 4.8%. These activities involving large industrial farms using copious amounts of herbicides and pesticides in the US generate marginally more greenhouse gases than livestock. Conventionally grown vegetables are part of this.
The original Mirror article on beef uses a United Nations report stating that beef is responsible for roughly 6% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Layman points out a problem with producing “global conclusions by averaging data from around the world while ignoring regional differences.” He also points out that the metric of GHGE (greenhouse gas emissions)/kcal used to assess the impact of agriculture on the environment is very limited and does not consider water and soil contamination with pesticides and herbicides. Nor does it consider the quality of a diet. I think there is room to take United Nations and even US EPA pronouncements on greenhouse gases with a grain of salt.
I have one last point to make about cattle production. For those of you who consider yourselves environmentalists, you need to step up to your dinner plate(!) and avoid buying all your meat from grocery stores. Buying your beef (or chicken) from a neighboring farmer puts money back into the local economy and even better, this farmer is likely growing cattle on grass. These days, our sustainable farmer is moving the cows from one pasture to another to help build the soil for fertility. The sunlight that makes the grasses grow ends up in the meat as vitamin D. There are no huge manure lagoons to pollute the waterways and no antibiotics in the meat. They are rarely fed grains which change the fatty acid profile of the beef from a preponderance of omega-3s to omega-6s. These cows live the life they were intended to live until they are slaughtered.
The less said about the Impossible Burger, the better. This is processed food at its worst. The claims of having heme is an advertising gimmick. Only animals contain heme iron. Plants contain non-heme iron. Look at the ingredients: Water, Textured Wheat Protein, Coconut Oil, Potato Protein, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Leghemoglobin (Soy), Yeast Extract, Salt, Konjac Gum, Xanthan Gum, Soy Protein Isolate, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Thiamin (Vitamin B1), Zinc, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12. Those of you who are skilled at reading food labels will know the following:
- The law allows companies to specify natural flavors for both natural and manmade trace ingredients. As long as the ingredient was derived from some natural food, it may be claimed as natural even if it is grown in a lab. These flavors are responsible for a myriad of side-effects in sensitive people.
- Textured wheat protein, while better than its soy counterpart which can be processed with hexane, is basically a big glob of gluten. The wheat in this product is conventionally grown so it will reflect the pesticides and herbicides used while growing.
- Soy protein isolate can be acid-washed in aluminum tanks leaving a nice toxic residue for the eater. Unfermented soy contains anti-nutrients preventing uptake of nutrients.
- The so-called heme is made from the leghemoglobin and fermented in yeast. Manmade food at its finest.
- The konjac and xanthan gums cause the gelled effect in this fake burger. Guar gum has been known for causing digestive upset.
- Invariably, added vitamins are cheap, synthetic versions of the real thing. It’s not clear that they can even be absorbed by humans. By contrast, our bodies know what to do with the interconnected minerals and vitamins in real food like beef.
Let me end this article where I began. The issue of what food should we eat has become as contentious as politics. Companies and agencies pay people to write articles in favor of their products. Even I have an axe to grind. I am the Weston A. Price Foundation chapter leader for the Eastern Shore of Virginia. We believe that what you eat has a great impact on your physical and mental health and that food should be as unprocessed as possible with a focus on pasture-raised meats and vegetables grown without pesticides and herbicides. If you’d like to know more about where to find locally grown pastured meats contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to know more about our local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation you can join our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/esvawapf/.