Julie Ellingson, executive vice president


Between suggestions of a meat tax and false rhetoric surrounding cell-cultured protein, the livestock industry has been a target in the media lately. Cattle and producers have been vilified and used as scapegoats to blame for supposed climate change and other negative environmental impacts. Activists are using these claims to encourage people to eat less meat and turn to vegan or vegetarian options.
That’s frustrating for lots of reasons, but especially because most of these arguments stem from a false claim that, globally, meat production generates more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. The faulty claim traces back to an old, but now long-debunked, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which garnered worldwide attention when it was published in 2006.
Back then, the FAO blamed livestock production for a staggering 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. When Dr. Frank Mitloehner exposed the faulty science that had been used to produce the study — pointing out that the FAO analysts had used a comprehensive lifecycle analysis to study the impact of livestock, but only considered exhaust emitted by finished cars, trucks, trains and planes when studying transportation — the FAO, to its credit, actually retracted its assertion and owned up to its error.
Still, the “Livestock’s Long Shadow” report has had its own long shadow and continues to be cited time and time again despite this development and more recent analyses by the Environmental Protection Agency demonstrating that cattle produce only about 2 percent of U.S. emissions — a fraction of what was earlier touted and that which other industries contribute.
As cell-cultured protein manufacturers prepare to bring “fake meat” to the commercial marketplace, claims of it being “cleaner” than conventionally raised meat have also been popping up.
It’s important, though, that consumers understand that, because these products are still being developed, the environ mental impacts inherent in them are not yet known. Current assessments are based on the unverified claims of the companies working to commercialize them. No samples have been made available for analysis, and nobody knows the amount of resources that will be required to manufacture these products at scale.
What we do know, however, is that cattle play an important role in sustainable food systems and a healthy environment.
By grazing on land unsuitable for crop production and eating organic matter leftover from human food production, our bovines transform these resources into nutritious, high-quality protein that is helping satisfy global food needs and they are doing it more efficiently now than ever before. Compared to 1975, 33 percent fewer cattle were required to produce the same amount of beef as in 2015. That’s something we can be proud of.
With all that is in the media right now and with anti-animal- ag opportunists abound, we can expect continued pot shots about the beef industry’s role in the environment. But, the science is on our side. Let’s be ready to share it.
Legislature The North Dakota Legislature is now in session. As such, starting next month, this column will convert to the “Legislative Ledger.” We will keep you up to date with the latest legislative happenings through it and our weekly electronic newsletter.
Thanks in advance for your engagement on the issues important to our association and industry.