I’m a huge advocate of including pasture-raised beef, poultry, and other organic meats in your diet. They are a fantastic source of vitamins and minerals including B12 and iron. Yet there’s a big debate on whether ranching is worse for the environment than farming. I want to set the record straight on this. 

The fact is, grass-fed beef production does not put the planet at risk due to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Human activities including transportation and industrial production are far more damaging. The good news is that livestock farming with grass-fed and grass-finished beef can reduce GHG emissions and support a healthy environment. Let me dispel the common myths so you can make choices that benefit your personal health and our environment.

What are Greenhouse Gases?

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are gases that can become trapped in the lower atmosphere and absorb heat radiated from the earth. These include:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
    COoccurs naturally in the atmosphere and is used by plants, trees, and grasses in photosynthesis. The greenhouse gas effect of CO2 is primarily due to the use of fossil fuels, deforestation, and soil depletion.1
  • Fluorinated (F-gases) 
    These are strictly man-made gases contributed through industrial processes and the use of a variety of consumer products.2
  • Methane (CH4
    This gas is produced through the decomposition of organic matter, such as the breakdown of manure.
  • Nitrous oxide (N20) 
    Commonly known as the “laughing gas” used in dental offices, it is produced by fossil fuel combustion.

The gases prevent heat from escaping into the upper atmosphere and space,3,4 creating a greenhouse effect on the earth’s surface. GHGs can lead to higher global temperatures, changes in rain patterns, and deviations from familiar seasonal shifts.5 

About 85% of GHGs are attributed to carbon dioxide.6 Yet methane has a global warming potential about thirty times higher than carbon dioxide.7 Unfortunately, cows are seen as a major contributor to global climate change because of this.

What are Greenhouse Gases? - Infographic - Amy Myers MD

Myths and Facts about Beef and GHGs

1. Myth: Agriculture is the biggest source of greenhouse gases.

Fact: About 25% of GHG emissions can be traced back to agriculture and land use.8 Specifically, cattle contribute 14% of GHGs worldwide. They produce a lot of methane primarily from burping.9 However, cows that eat less fibrous grass produce far less methane than cows that eat commercial feed.10

2. Myth: Cattle and dairy cows eat crops that people should be eating.

Fact: 85% of what cattle and dairy cows eat are crops that humans cannot consume. This includes grass, plants, shrubs, and the straw left behind after a harvest.11 Not only is it inedible for humans, the agricultural land for livestock cannot sustain crops for humans due to soil quality and climate. As much as 70% of all agricultural land in the world can only be used for livestock.12

3. Myth: Decreasing ranching and increasing farming would reduce GHG emissions.

Fact: If we moved to a purely plant-based diet and increased the production of crops, we could also increase GHG emissions. This is because crop cultivation represents 50% of agriculture-related GHG emissions. Livestock production only contributes about 42%.

4. Myth: Eliminating meat from one meal each week will protect the environment.

Fact: Even if Americans eliminated all animal protein from their diet all of the time, GHG emissions would only reduce by 2.6%.13 In fact, the cultivation of crops for human consumption produces more GHG emissions than raising livestock!14

5. Myth: Grazing livestock deplete the soil.

Fact: Grazing livestock play an important role in recycling nutrients in an ecosystem’s soil. Plants depend on grazing for distributing seeds and removing excess growth.15 Cattle eat what is available and help maintain the landscape. The seeds of the grass that they eat travel through their digestion unimpaired, and are distributed through “cow patties.” 

Grass from greater seed distribution uses CO2, sunlight, water, and nutrients from the soil for photosynthesis. This process takes CO2 from the air,16 so encouraging growth with pasture-raised livestock can have a positive effect on the amount of carbon emissions.17

6. Myth: Plant-based diets can meet the nutritional needs of the world’s population.

Fact: Even though the US is one of the world’s leading agricultural producers,18 if we switched to a plants-only diet, we wouldn’t be able to meet the nutritional needs of the population.19 Meat is the most efficient source of many nutrients including essential fatty acids, and vitamins A and B12. 

Several common nutrient deficiencies are alleviated with just three ounces of beef daily. This small serving offers more than half the daily needs for selenium, niacin, and vitamin B12. It’s also an excellent source of iron and zinc.20

What You Can Do?

Start by advocating for more sustainable farming practices. Sustainable farming preserves the environment, supports the farming community, and is economically sound.21

The best way to ensure that you’re taking part in a sustainable farming system conscious of GHG emissions is with the right diet

Choose locally-grown products. The largest economic sector in greenhouse gas emissions was the transportation sector, representing 29% of all emissions.22 The farther away from your home your food is grown, the more transportation factors into the equation of greenhouse gas emissions.

You can do this by looking for farmers who prioritize soil health, minimize water use, and lower pollution levels on the farm with proper manure management. In addition, the farmers who raise beef cattle using quality feed prioritize the environment and animal welfare. Lower feed quality can lead to higher methane emissions due to how cattle digest food.23

The best way to ensure that you’re taking part in a sustainable farming system conscious of GHG emissions is with the right diet — yours! This includes my Paleo Protein and Collagen Protein which are sourced from 100% non-GMO, grass-fed, and pasture-raised beef. Not only do they help you take back your health, they are also made from animals raised in a way that protects and ensures a healthy planet for future generations.  

And to ensure your body gets the optimal amounts of 28 vitamins and minerals your body needs, add my Multivitamin to your daily routine. It features the all-important B Vitamins in their activated forms to promote cardiovascular and neurological health, and optimize detoxification and methylation, as well as bioavailable calcium and Vitamin D3 to maintain bone health

Cleanest AIP Grass-fed Protein - Paleo Protein Bottles - Promo Image - Amy Myers MD

Article Sources

  1. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data
  2. https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/f-gas_en
  3. https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-references/faq/greenhouse-gases.php
  4. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/greenhouse-effect-101#gases
  5. https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/
  6. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases
  7. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/understanding-global-warming-potentials
  8. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/greenhouse-effect-101#gases
  9. https://climate.nasa.gov/faq/33/which-is-a-bigger-methane-source-cow-belching-or-cow-flatulence/
  10. https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/climate-change/carbon-farming-reducing-methane-emissions-cattle-using-feed-additives
  11. https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/raising-cattle/efficiency-of-cattle-grazing-ze0z1411zdeh
  12. http://theconversation.com/yes-eating-meat-affects-the-environment-but-cows-are-not-killing-the-climate-94968
  13. http://theconversation.com/yes-eating-meat-affects-the-environment-but-cows-are-not-killing-the-climate-94968
  14. https://www.fb.org/market-intel/agriculture-and-greenhouse-gas-emissions
  15. https://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/environmental-footprint-of-beef-production-6
  16. https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2436/co2-is-making-earth-greenerfor-now/
  17. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/08/13/746576239/is-grass-fed-beef-really-better-for-the-planet-heres-the-science
  18. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/043015/who-produces-worlds-food.asp
  19. https://www.pnas.org/content/114/48/E10301
  20. https://academic.oup.com/af/article/8/3/5/5048762
  21. https://www.westernsare.org/About-Us/What-is-Sustainable-Agriculture
  22. https://www.fb.org/market-intel/agriculture-and-greenhouse-gas-emissions
  23. https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/climate-change/carbon-farming-reducing-methane-emissions-cattle-using-feed-additives