Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Should Environmentalists Just Say No to Eating Beef?

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Full disclosure: Although I haven’t said “No” to eating beef, I don’t eat it very often at all: I go for months with no beef. No big decision, I just drifted away, in part because of repeated reports of grave illness people had from eating contaminated beef and also finding how much I enjoy a diet with fish, soy (tofu and tempeh), chicken, and pork as protein sources.

Marc Gunther has a very interesting report in Yale Environment 360 on a beef industry makeover/PR campaign to try to bring people back to beef.

Like plastic bags, coal, and SUVs, beef has few friends in the environmental community. Most environmentalists would point to beef — in particular, beef cattle that spend their final days in confined feedlots — as being responsible for an array of ills — the greenhouse gas emissions that the cattle generate; the groundwater pollution from their manure; the use of antibiotics in animal feed; the vast quantities of monoculture corn grown to feed the cattle; and the enormous amount of chemical fertilizers and water needed to grow the corn. As advocacy group Food and Water Watch put it in a 2010 report, “The significant growth in industrial-scale, factory-farmed livestock has contributed to a host of environmental, public health, food safety and animal welfare problems.”

Jason Clay believes those problems can be fixed. Clay, 61, who grew up on a Missouri farm, is senior vice president for market transformation at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and an expert on the environmental impacts of farming. He has now set out to “green” the hamburger — along with the steak, the prime rib, and the rest of the steer.

To that end, WWF this year helped launch the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, an association of businesses and environmental groups that has begun to “facilitate a global dialogue on beef production that is environmentally sound, socially responsible, and economically viable.” The roundtable plans to identify the best practices for raising beef, and spread them widely using the leverage of retailers like Wal-Mart and brands like McDonald’s to do so. Someday your burger may come with fries, a Coke, and a “green” seal of approval.

This is a controversial undertaking for a bunch of reasons, and not just with vegetarians. First, cattle are by nature inefficient converters of plants into protein, so beef has a far bigger environmental footprint than foods like fish or even poultry. Second, given the strong involvement of the beef industry, the roundtable is likely to challenge a green orthodoxy that says cattle should be allowed to run free on pasture and eat grass. (All cattle are grass-fed when young, but conventionally raised cows spend most of their lives in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, where they are fed corn.)

Third, WWF has chosen to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2012 at 2:21 pm

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