Cow burps: The rest of the story

By Gene Hall

I’m a little miffed by a recent opinion video on CNN, “Why Beef is the New SUV.” It’s very fashionable to attack beef—all livestock really—and the reasons are not always transparent. But, give me the freedom to cherry pick the data I want to use, and I can spin a pretty good yarn.

According to the EPA, about 1.5 percent of greenhouse gasses are attributable to cows burping and, well, expending gas. That means that if you were to launch every cow in the world into high orbit around the sun, you’d be left with essentially the same greenhouse gas problem that you have in the first place.

To get to the high greenhouse gas number used in this piece, you have to count the fuel and fertilizer to grow corn used to feed cattle. Fair enough. Never mind that it’s very likely some kind of fossil fuel burning crop that is going to be grown there.

Just what ARE we going to grow on the grasslands where cattle are raised if we suddenly stop eating beef? Often forgotten in the rush to condemn beef is that ALL cattle eat grass most of their lives. They are only finished out on corn. Unless, of course, grass-fed beef is your preference.

Does anyone think we are going to drop a handful of kale seeds on these natural grasslands and presto, a veggie miracle and no greenhouse gases? Whatever we grow there is going to require an expenditure of fossil fuels and some kind of fertilizer. The fact is, on much of this land, grass is the ONLY thing that will grow. With cattle, we have a means to harvest that grass for human consumption. That’s why a lot of ranchers refer to themselves as “grass farmers.”

There’s an old story about a group of police chasing a well-known criminal. They cornered him in an abandoned building. Not having the resources to surround such a large building, they decided to surround the building next door.

If you are worried about greenhouse gases, cattle are the same as the building next door.

I feel like a cheeseburger, tonight. Maybe tomorrow night, too.

Gene Hall

Public Relations Director
Texas Farm Bureau
I believe that the only hope for a food secure world is capitalism and reasonable profits for America’s farm and ranch families–that the first element of sustainability is economic survival.
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