Meat & The Environment: Beef
Now more than ever is the time to support our communities, family, friends, and the environment. We are all trying to cope with a world that will be forever changed by the current pandemic. This is a time for serious introspection. A time to nourish ourselves physically and emotionally and take an honest look at how our actions or inactions affect the environment around us and result in far-reaching consequences. I hope we can all take this time to find ways we can live more gently and lessen our impact on an ever-changing climate and landscape.
With that in mind, this month we’re kicking off our “Meat & The Environment” blog series with a discussion about a very common protein – beef.
For starters, let’s get a couple of points out of the way. We love meat at The Happy Beast. In fact, a large part of our mission is to educate pet guardians about the importance of a fresh food diet that is high in animal protein and low in carbohydrates. However, there is a price that comes with the consumption of meat by us and our pets.
Where our meat comes from is an integral part of the puzzle. In this blog post, we’ll briefly address the basics of beef production in our country and what you can do to help lessen its environmental impact. In future posts, we’ll discuss the effect industrialized agriculture has on public lands, wildlife conservation, habitat destruction, and animal/human welfare.
According to 2017 USDA statistics, there are 2.8 million cattle/calves in the state of Colorado. Americans consume an average of 65 pounds of beef every year and, according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information, our pets’ diets account for 25–30% of the environmental impacts from animal production, including use of land, water, and fossil fuels.
As a society, we have become extremely disconnected from where our meat comes from. We don’t see the effects a pound of ground beef has on the environment or what the life of the animal looked like. Our meat and produce have become industrialized, but it does not have to be this way.
Today, the majority of beef produced in our country comes from industrial feedlots. In 1967, the United States had 9,627 livestock slaughtering facilities (cattle, hog, and sheep). Now, due to corporate consolidation and mass meat production, there are just 1,100 federally-inspected facilities that are managed under the USDA (Bloomberg.com).
The reduction in the number of slaughtering facilities was the beginning of major corporations taking over our meat supply. This mass consolidation has led many small, family farmers and ranchers unable to find, or afford to process, their own meat. According to the Niche Processor Assistance Network, there are only 20 USDA-inspected slaughterhouses in Colorado that support family farmers and ranchers who want to bring their own meat to market. The other option is for farmers and ranchers to sell their meat for a standard price per pound to a facility like JBS that handles processing and sales. In this case, the farmer or rancher no longer has their name on the product and loses all control over the product they have spent their daily lives creating.
Like with most industries, these corporate processors have priced out the small producer and have often left them with no choice but to give into the system. This is why non-conventional meat (what I like to call “happy meat”) is so expensive. Processing can be 30% of the cost of doing business for these small-time producers. This cost trickles down to the consumer. It is the cost of doing business the ethical way.
The four major companies that dominate the world of animal processing sell 85% of the beef in the U.S. (Blommberg.com). There are numerous problems with this. Like JBS in Greeley, when slaughterhouses process thousands of animals per day, the animals in their feedlot are given heavy doses of antibiotics and hormones to simply keep them alive enough to cross the threshold to be turned into meat.
According to the FDA, 80% of antibiotics used in our country are used for farm animals. Not only do these antibiotics and hormones end up in the meat we and our pets eat, they end up in our drinking water and streams and rivers along with the animal waste pollution from these concentrated feedlots. Much like the movement we have seen for organic produce, there is a movement within the livestock industry called regenerative agriculture. Put simply, this way of farming and ranching uses planned pasture rotation as a way to increase soil health, sequester CO2 in the soil, promote biodiversity, and increase water retention.
Regenerative agriculture is also good for the cow! Cattle are raised by natural grazing in open pasture and more time is given for them to reach natural maturity for market. Unfortunately, this type of beef makes up just over 1% of the beef sold in our country. According to a report released in 2019 from Stone Barn Foods and Agriculture and their partners, it is estimated that 97% of cattle in the U.S. live the last 4-6 months of their life in a concentrated animal feeding operation (or CAFO). The animals become a product of an industrialized agriculture industry dominated by Tyson, Cargill, JBS USA, and National Beef Packaging Company. Colorado is home to 200 CAFOs. There are 2 million cows that pass through these facilities each year.
The positive news is that demand for natural and humane beef is on the rise. We have the power to drive that demand and make a significant change for the betterment of these animals, our environment, and the dedicated family farmers and ranchers who work 365 days a year to survive and bring food to our tables.
So, what can we do?
1. Support Local Meat Producers
We as consumers drive the demand so look where your meat comes from! The more we ask questions and make sustainable and humane choices, the more change we will see in reversing the industrialization of our food supply. Our family farmers and ranchers need us. They want to do the right thing, but they are cornered between their ethics and being able to survive.
2. Value Quality
The second justification for apathy is that “happy meat” is too expensive. Yes, it is more expensive. Another way to look at it is why is conventional meat so cheap? We consumers see this everyday with everything we purchase. Huge quantities are always less expensive than food that is produced in small batches, homemade, sustainably sourced, organic, etc. We need to eat less and waste less. Quality over quantity.
We are excited to announce that you will begin to see many transformations at The Happy Beast in the coming months. We are working diligently to be a leader in the pet food industry by expanding the scope of information provided to customers, and to broaden our responsibility as animal guardians, members of our communities, and inhabitants of this planet.
One of our major tasks at hand is to design a scale of sustainability with all of our manufacturers. By creating a code of ethics addressing concerns like where their meat comes from, we can offer transparency about the products you are buying and help you make better choices by selecting products that are more connected to your values.
Here’s a couple of definitions to help you along the way:
- Grass-Finished – Meat labeled “grass-finished” is guaranteed to come from an animal that spends its entire life on open pasture and is processed by the farmer/rancher at a small-scale facility.
- Grass-Fed – Meat labeled “grass-fed” most likely started its life on pasture on a farm or ranch, but was finished with grain at a feedlot. The exception to this would be meat that is ethically grain-finished on a farm or ranch for taste preferences and then taken to a small-scale processor. Some people prefer the marbling of meat that comes from grain-finished meat. A safe way to tell is don’t trust anything that is not grass-finished unless it comes directly from a farm or ranch or from a local market or butcher shop. Unfortunately, beef in the big grocery stores most likely came from animals that ended up in the feedlot.
3. Support These Companies
- Andersons – A Colorado company using only meat from Kinikin farm, which practices regenerative farming on the western slope! They offer fresh food and lots of bones for your dog to chew on.
- Answers – A leader in the industry for their socially and environmentally-guided principles. All animals are pasture raised with the highest regard for animal welfare.
- Rawr – Balanced cat food that is sustainably sourced and free of antibiotics and hormones.
- Raw Bistro – Located in an area of Minnesota dedicated to sustainable agriculture. They source all ingredients from local and regional producers who value humane and environmentally-based farming practices.
- Beast Feast – Our own line of pet treats made from responsibly-sourced meats in Colorado and Wyoming.
Great post, thank you. So many are against beef as harmful to the environment, when good grazing methods enrich pastures far more than monoagriculture does, increasing nutrients, moisture retention, plant and insect diversity, in turn increasing oxygen and good gasses in the atmosphere, and protecting species endangered by harmful industrial grazing and monoagriculture. I even read an article recently that said removal of roaming herds, an integral part of the ecosystem, from the landscape has done incredible damage, causing the soil to harden and dry out and produce far less natural vegetation on which insects and animals live, and affecting the atmosphere for the worse.
Which explains why, when pioneers first came here, prairie grasses were shoulder-high and flowers, insect and birds abundant, but now they are very short with much less insect and bird life. Good grazing methods mimic roaming, break up and fertilize soil, thus make soil and atmosphere far healthier than if there is no grazing at all.
I agree, we should avoid conventional meat if we can, and support small ranchers and farmers using good methods, they are good stewards of our planet (though I don’t believe in “meat shaming” those who can only afford conventional meat, especially given meat prices in this urban area).
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Thanks for the info about beef. My friend is thinking of getting cattle for his farm. I’ll share this info about beef with my friend.