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The Shocking Truth that will change everything...until you start growing breasts.
November 26, 2007 11:27 AM   Subscribe

New Beef Eco-Report: Pound-for-Pound, Beef Produced with Grains and Growth Hormones Produces 40% Less Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Saves Two-Thirds More Land for Nature Compared to Organic Grass-Fed Beef. "Environmentally conscious consumers who have been told that grass-raised beef is more environmentally sensitive and sustainable should rethink their beef purchases in light of our findings," says lead author Alex Avery, author of The Truth About Organic Foods.
posted by parmanparman (68 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Beef should be a luxury, an occasional indulgence, not a staple. Eat a goddamn goat already!
posted by Mister_A at 11:32 AM on November 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


But on the other hand, grass fed organic hippie cows don’t spend their lives standing knee deep in their own shit. So they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.
posted by bondcliff at 11:34 AM on November 26, 2007 [11 favorites]


Of course, even more eco-friendly would be not eating beef in the first place.
posted by DU at 11:34 AM on November 26, 2007 [16 favorites]


The Hudson Institute, the backers of this study.
Herman Kahn, the guy who founded the Hudson Institute.

A critique of the Hudson Institute by Source Watch.
Another critique.

Hmm...
posted by anansi at 11:36 AM on November 26, 2007 [19 favorites]


I was under the impression that preference for grass-fed, hormone-free beef had less to do with greenhouse emissions and more to do with not wanting to eat meat tainted with hormones and antibiotics that came from steers being force-fed a grain that is not part of their natural diet.
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 11:37 AM on November 26, 2007 [5 favorites]


What is the link between teh CGFI and the Hudson Institute?
posted by Mister_A at 11:37 AM on November 26, 2007


I would rather be wrong with a fillet steak than right with such men.
posted by athenian at 11:37 AM on November 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


The Center for Global Food Issues (CGFI) is a project of the conservative think-tank, the Hudson Institute, and is based in Churchville, Virginia.

This is my surprised face.
posted by basicchannel at 11:38 AM on November 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


Or what anansi said. Sorry.
posted by basicchannel at 11:38 AM on November 26, 2007


Ahh got it. I thought as much...
posted by Mister_A at 11:38 AM on November 26, 2007


Alex Avery is director of research and education with the Center for Global Food Issues at Hudson Institute. ...

From the website: "The Center for Global Food Issues is a project of the Hudson Institute and is based in Churchville, Virginia. The Center's main goals are to:

* promote free trade in agricultural products for both economic efficiency and environmental conservation;
* combat efforts to limit technological innovation in agriculture, the foundation for continued agricultural sustainability;
* heighten awareness of the connection between agricultural productivity and environmental conservation."


So, basically, the agricultural equivalent of the Cato institute is telling everybody that bovine steroids are good for you and Mother Earth, not that we care about that bitch anyway.

Thanks, I'll pass.
posted by Avenger at 11:40 AM on November 26, 2007


Isn't this article great?!
posted by parmanparman at 11:42 AM on November 26, 2007


Can't remember who said it first, but when something doesn't make sense at face value, look for the economic interests involved.
posted by Rykey at 11:44 AM on November 26, 2007


Yeah, 2nding joseph_elmhurst it tastes better when cows are eating grass as opposed to a slurry mix which includes cow parts. If you’re going to have the only very occasional steak, it might as well taste good.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:45 AM on November 26, 2007


What joseph_elmhurst said.

And anyway, there's already good research being done on feed supplements that reduce cattle emissions. Think Beano for beef.
posted by Zinger at 11:45 AM on November 26, 2007


Ah, but is there a way to quantify the increased prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria due to current feedlot practices?
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:45 AM on November 26, 2007


This Kelly cartoon was really prescient...it's great that the Hudson Institute had the balls to get the story out.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:50 AM on November 26, 2007


There are vastly too many living human beings, and many aspects of modern life equal destruction to something or other no matter how we try to do no harm.
posted by SaintCynr at 11:59 AM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Range fed cattle produce meat high in Conjugated Linoleic Acid, which is a fatty acid that helps keep humans slim, as opposed to the fats created by grain feeding cattle. This effect is also seen in the milk products from range fed cattle.

Range fed cattle are cleaner, and less in need of antibiotics and have less micotoxins in their flesh. When you wander off into the standards for silage and fungal toxin loads allowed for cattle consumption, you realize there are many other factors involved that make range feeding cattle for human consumption, a wise choice for public health reasons. Remember that the bovine diet doesn't include fryer fat, rancid potato chips, the cleanings from industrial garbage disposals, many things that are fed to cattle. Organic range is certainly a more natural way to feed cattle, the benefits of which will never be fully examined because it is cost efficient to feed cattle whatever growers want to, in order to maximize profit.

At the top of the food chain, large bovines are a wasteful way to get proteins into the human diet. By now we all know that growing beans and rice, and not growing cattle at all, is the best thing for the world. The cow is out of the barn on this issue, however.

At this time PR is everything, and the biggest money buys the information releases. The benefits of organic or natural, will never be examined by big money, unless big money can be made from them. As we are continually fleeced by big business doings, we will have less cash to choose with, so the PR will make it sound healthy for the planet to engage in unhealthy but profitable practices.

The organic community has been tugging at the coat sleeves of this world for several decades now, and has been prescient in terms of what would happen to the world and its populations if we fail to heed their warnings. Now their verbiage is being borrowed by any one wanting to make a dime these days.
posted by Oyéah at 11:59 AM on November 26, 2007 [7 favorites]


i can't wait for their positive take on liquor and tobacco.
posted by bruce at 11:59 AM on November 26, 2007


A farmer in Utah, in fact more than one, told me that a generation ago, all farmers were organic. Their cattle made the fertilizer for their gardens, and etc. Now he can't afford the fertilizer and pesticides it takes to be un-organic.
posted by Oyéah at 12:00 PM on November 26, 2007


So, this Kahn fella is guilty of. . . thinking about the effects of surviving nuclear war at a time when no one else was? Horrors! A theoretician!

Ignore the backers, pay attention to the data and the sources. Judge them on their merits.
posted by gsh at 12:01 PM on November 26, 2007


Can't remember who said it first, but when something doesn't make sense at face value, look for the economic interests involved.

I'm sure he wasn't the first, but Deep Throat told Woodward and Bernstein to follow the money.
posted by rtha at 12:02 PM on November 26, 2007


And, also, your kid will go through puberty like, way sooner. Which is saweet.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:02 PM on November 26, 2007


The climate argument is fairly bunk. They include CO2 from respiration, which is typically excluded because that CO2 was a) immediately withdrawn from the atmosphere by the grass and b) would have been released by the decay of the grass anyway. It's true that grass-fed cattle by virtue of being alive longer will create more methane, and methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. However, methane is less long-term problematic because it has a relatively short half life in the atmosphere. We could decide to reduce methane outputs tomorrow and have a substantial climate impact over five years. CO2 will hang around for the next 300 years or so.

The land use argument is very real, and should be considered if you're eating south american beef. To raise grass-fed cattle you need much more land, which means more destroyed rainforest.

The watershed arguments seemed selective at best. Mainly the focus was on the hormone levels, which I suppose was their goal.

The real answer if you're environmentally conscious is to just not eat beef/dairy. Yeah, I know, you love butter.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:02 PM on November 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


Smedleyman writes "Yeah, 2nding joseph_elmhurst it tastes better when cows are eating grass as opposed to a slurry mix which includes cow parts."

Yeah, but there are many who would argue that it tastes even better when the cows are finished on organic grain. They get that nice marbling.

The grass vs. grain taste argument is truly epic....
posted by mr_roboto at 12:02 PM on November 26, 2007


Do you think the Tags section is your personal messaging system?
posted by poppo at 12:04 PM on November 26, 2007 [6 favorites]


Probably no mention of what it takes to grow the actual grain that is fed to the factory beef, right? The pesticides used. The chemical fertilizers. The fact that corn utterly depletes the soil of nutrients.

And now that ethanol is enjoying a boom, corn for feed is becoming much more expensive, resulting in higher prices for factory beef.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:05 PM on November 26, 2007


This weekend I had a very nice certified organic steak from a neighbourhood butcher, and when I ate it I thought of King of the Hill, when the family were eating organic meat for the first time:

"If this is food, what have we been eating all this time?"

Damn, that was good steak.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 12:17 PM on November 26, 2007


Ignore the backers, pay attention to the data and the sources. Judge them on their merits.

First, people here are doing a fine job of that, methinks. It's such a stupid red herring. The problem is that too much beef is being eaten. Period.

Second, it's impossible to "ignore the backers" when the people funding the institution publishing the report include:

ADM
ConAgra
Monstanto
CropLife America
Syngenta Crop Protection
United Agri Products

Folks like those make a fuckload of dinero supplying the beef industry with genetically modified grain, and stand to lose a lot of business if/when the public starts demanding better, more humanely-grown meat and stops stuffing so many Big Macs down its face.
posted by mkultra at 12:19 PM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


No one's said it yet?

Really?

Well, all right.






KAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHNNN

posted by Greg Nog at 12:20 PM on November 26, 2007


Oh for Christ's sake. A think tank publishes a report stating that organic meat is not an unalloyed good, and that it faces tradeoffs like damn near everything else in the entire world, and the open-minded, progressive, free-thinking mefites shove their fingers in their ears and start shouting "corporate stooges! corporate stooges!"
posted by Kwantsar at 12:25 PM on November 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


Of course, even more eco-friendly would be not eating beef in the first place.

If we don't eat them, they'll take our jobs.
posted by ogre at 12:27 PM on November 26, 2007 [5 favorites]


Corporate stooges! Corporate stooges!
posted by arcticwoman at 12:33 PM on November 26, 2007


On reflection, that doesn't quite seem like what everyone in the thread has been saying.
posted by arcticwoman at 12:33 PM on November 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


These life cycle analysis problems are so absurdly complicated that they often strike me as a litmus test for bias. So I always treat these throwaway "X is simplistic unqualified percentage greater/lesser/more awesome/less evil than Y" statements as meaningless noise. Often a little cursory thought about the statement makes it clear that you can't really tell what's being asserted at all (and this is certainly one of those cases).
posted by nanojath at 12:34 PM on November 26, 2007


The Hudson Institute is quite well known for producing superficially arresting but often dodgy pronouncements like this one. Everything they say should be taken with a pinch of organic sea salt.
posted by rhymer at 12:38 PM on November 26, 2007


great summary kwantsar, did you actually read the thread?
posted by PugAchev at 12:39 PM on November 26, 2007


Well, this is easy: let's all eat organic beef, but reduce our consumption of it by 40%!

We will reduce the greenhouse gases, the beef will taste better, our kids won't hit puberty early, and because it will be more of an indulgence than a staple, the prices (and profits) will go up per head of cattle.

Of course, ravenous beef-eaters won't like it, and overall profit will decline. There's always a flaw.
posted by davejay at 12:40 PM on November 26, 2007


Anecdotally, I have a friend in NYC that can afford the best steaks in town. He also travels to Argentina quite a bit and reports that that even cheap beef just about anywhere in Argentina is on par or substantially better tasting than what he gets in NYC. I also have friends from both Brazil and Argentina that have mentioned on more than one occasion how crappy beef is in general in the U.S. compared to what they are used to.
posted by well_balanced at 12:40 PM on November 26, 2007


The source of the carbon in those greenhouse gasses is as or
more important than the total emissions. Petro-beef, fed with
grain grown by synthetized fertilizers and harvested with
petroleum driven machinery is releasing fossil carbon into the
atmosphere.

Pasture or range fed cows are not mining new carbon and
releasing it. The grass they eat (and fertilize) extracted its
carbon from the air. The cows release that carbon back to the
air.

And the absence of a feedlot, with its anaerobic
fermentation of the manure from the cows, further reduces the
methane production relative to the gassy, grassy cow. The
paper states that less than half of the (CO2 equivalent)
greenhouse gasses come from the cow itself.

It's not hippies, progressives and mefites sticking their fingers
in their ears and refusing to listen to criticism of their
cherished beliefs. It's the spin and selective discussion of
issues in a paper that purports to be an honest discussion
of costs. That is to say, it's the bullshit.
posted by the Real Dan at 12:41 PM on November 26, 2007 [9 favorites]


How to create a straw man:

Step one: Present a misrepresentation of the opponent's position.

Step two: Refute that position.

Step Three: invest in a massive media pr campaign to portray opponent as a hypocrite thereby putting them on on the defensive, confusing fence-sitters and further entrenching your base in their ignorance. Continue on with status quo...
posted by any major dude at 12:54 PM on November 26, 2007


Also, I've looked through the study and as far as I can tell they've ignored the CO2 emissions from transporting the grain to the cows in the grain-fed case.

Since you need many more pounds of grain than you get out in beef, that's where the food-miles mount up for meat.

This seems to be a seriously flawed study.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:54 PM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Most of the world's gas is trapped in think tanks.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:02 PM on November 26, 2007 [8 favorites]


CONSERVATIVE THINK TANK COMPARES APPLES TO ORANGES, FINDS DATA TO SUPPORT FOREGONE CONCLUSION.
-Crowds stunned-
-Reality wins anyway-
posted by Miko at 1:10 PM on November 26, 2007


Yeah but who wants unhappy cows.
posted by Rashomon at 1:22 PM on November 26, 2007


“Corporate stooges! Corporate stooges!”

Moe: Spread out...your assets, knucklehead.

Larry: Say, why don’t you leave him alone? Deregulation is threatening our dominant market position, you guys.

Curly: Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk, oh, a wise guy. Divoisifying me, eh?

Moe: Pipe down, the both of ya. Or I’ll alter your physical distribution strategy, change your market message and realign your core values with this hammer, see?
posted by Smedleyman at 1:35 PM on November 26, 2007 [8 favorites]


By now we all know that growing beans and rice, and not growing cattle at all, is the best thing for the world. The cow is out of the barn on this issue, however.

Interestingly enough, it's been found that a diet with a little meat uses less land than many vegetarian diets. Note that the authors do recommend that meat consumption be drastically reduced to meat the environmental friendliness of a completely vegetarian diet.
posted by greatgefilte at 1:45 PM on November 26, 2007 [5 favorites]


What about the fact that grass-fed beef takes about half as long to cook under my gas broiler? Are those greenhouse gases taken into account? And what about the fact that the grass-fed beef is less fatty and tastes better? And my suspicions that it's healthier for me to eat meat that's not dripping with steroids and antibiotics - what about that? How about the fact that the NFL won't let these hormones be injected into their human players? Why should we eat them if they're not good for humans?

Seriously, why not just make the test panel consume all the cow manure attributable to the growth of their steak - probably fill up a couple salad bowls with it - and then see how much beef they want to eat? This study makes about as much sense.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:51 PM on November 26, 2007


Nice one, greatgefilte!
posted by Mister_A at 1:55 PM on November 26, 2007


To be fair, American beef is noticeably more tender than EU beef. Those hormones are good for something.
posted by rhymer at 2:03 PM on November 26, 2007


I'd rather we just have fewer people and more beef.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:07 PM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yes, less people, more cows for me!
posted by schroedinger at 2:13 PM on November 26, 2007


A think tank publishes a report stating that organic meat is not an unalloyed good, and that it faces tradeoffs like damn near everything else in the entire world

This is almost certainly true and I'm totally behind measured pronouncements made with this kind of understanding. 15 minutes of reading doesn't convince me that's what Alex Avery is doing.

and the open-minded, progressive, free-thinking mefites shove their fingers in their ears and start shouting "corporate stooges! corporate stooges!"

If the report didn't engage in some of the sleight of hand that has been pointed out here and here, it'd be easier not to be suspicious of the report.
posted by namespan at 2:17 PM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


The benefits of organic or natural, will never be examined by big money, unless big money can be made from them.

I love these kinds threads. They are marbled with delicious irrationality.
posted by srboisvert at 2:17 PM on November 26, 2007


The real question is why anyone would take any studies coming out of a policy think tank seriously. There is no peer-review, no penalty for faulty work, and the people working on the report have no interest in accuracy.
posted by delmoi at 2:35 PM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hmm... has the enviromental benefit of the coming plague of ultra-lethal MRSA "superbugs" caused by pumping all these antibiotics into beef been taken into acount? Less people = less enviromental damage!
posted by Artw at 2:46 PM on November 26, 2007


Yeah, in other news bicycling is bad for the environment, walking is worse and Hybrids are worse than Hummers. I'm glad ConAgra, ADM and Monsanto have finally found the courage to stand up to the organi-fascist cabals that make up the free range movement.

Thank goodness we can count on the balanced work of PR shills and slanted think tanks.

In defense, some of these statements are made by economists who decide to measure one variable and ignore every other factor.
posted by Telf at 2:58 PM on November 26, 2007


Has anyone who is jumping in to defend the study actually read it? It is laughably incomplete in its greenhouse gas analysis.

The authors only analyze the greenhouse gas emissions from three sources to compare the feeding methods: respiration, fertilizer, and methane emissions (both from manure and from gas). First off, they admit that the carbon emissions from respiration shouldn't be counted because the carbon was captured from the air (and quote the EPA on this fact) and then they go ahead and count it anyways. Then, they count the carbon emissions from nitrogen fertilizer production for grain production, but completely ignore all the other greenhouse gas emissions due to grain production, for example: grain transport, machinery production and use, pesticide production and application, silage storage (methane). They also ignore any greenhouse gas emissions from the feedlots themselves, apart from those directly tied to the cattle. Finally, they completely ignore the time dependence of methane's potency as a greenhouse gas, simply stating that it is 23 times as potent as carbon dioxide (without even bothering to cite a source!).

Corporate stooges sounds about right to me.
posted by ssg at 3:09 PM on November 26, 2007


Can't remember who said it first, but when something doesn't make sense at face value, look for the economic interests involved.

It's like Lenin said, you look for the person who will benefit...
posted by Demogorgon at 3:20 PM on November 26, 2007


I am the walrus
posted by anansi at 3:35 PM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


A couple of years ago I toured two cattle farms. One was a regular farm in which cattle were raised for beef. The other was an organic dairy farm.

The beef cattle farm was a series of pitted, barren paddocks. The farmer had permitted overgrazing to take place, because he fed his cattle out of a trough anyway. It didn't matter to him that his topsoil had blown away. The cattle themselves were mostly 3-4 years old, nervous and skittish. When we approached they scampered off and formed themselves into a cattle wall.

The cowpats, even the old ones, were sticky, gummy affairs that seemed unable to decompose.

The organic dairy farmer had, like all organic farmers, taken as the foundation of his enterprise good, healthy soil. Consequently his paddocks were lush with growth. At one point we reached the top of a small hill and I looked back the way we had travelled. No path of trampled grass and weeds marked our path: the plants had simply sprung back upright after being flattened. The farmer informed us he rarely had problems with pests eating his paddocks. His theory was that the plants were just too tough to digest, and the various nibblers simply moved on to paddocks with less healthy growth.

(This came as a minor revelation in and of itself. I wondered if anyone had done any studies in this area. Do pests really prefer less healthy plants?)

Many of the cows were 7 or 8 years old, still straight-backed. Being straight-backed, their droppings fell freely to the ground, rather than dribbling over their legs and udder. This was very important to the farmer. A clean udder means a low bacteria count in the milk. The health of the cows kept his veterinary bills to a minimum, too. Cowpats over a few days old seemingly just crumbled back into the soil (so I guess organic cowshit really does release more methane). The cows themselves barely acknowledged us. We passed between them without any fuss.

The organic farmer's main concern was not production, it was marketing. He was part of an organization of organic farmers who helped to make sure that dairy foods labelled 'organic', actually conformed to a set of standards that justified that label, instead of simply being an advertising gimmick like 'low salt' or 'fat free'.
posted by Ritchie at 5:22 PM on November 26, 2007 [7 favorites]


This from a big dairy meet back east. (Now that's some lousy documentation!)

"Cotta told his audience of Wisconsin milk processors that California Dairies launched its BGH-free milk policy this past January. By Aug. 1, the milk from the co-op’s 633 member farms will be almost entirely rBST free.

Those that do not cease use of the hormone will pay a penalty to have the co-op handle their milk, he continued. But as it stands now, “96.5 percent” of the farms no longer use BGH

Cotta said a “growing mistrust” about “what’s going into our food” on the part of consumers is behind the co-op’s anti-BGH stance. California Dairies, which processes more than 16 billion pounds of milk annually, surveyed its retail customers, he explained, asking them what they want in their dairy products.

“’No added hormones’” drew a 74 percent positive response rate, he said. It’s important to listen to consumer demands, Cotta asserted, saying, “If we don’t have consumers, we don’t need producers and we don’t need to produce milk.”"

Family in California was telling me that the dairy producers had banned BGH, and you could buy any milk on the shelf and know it is BGH free there.
posted by Oyéah at 6:15 PM on November 26, 2007


I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that this study is completely bogus.

I do not believe for a moment that a cow eating grass is going to require more energy to bring to market than one that is being maintained on a high-grain, high-antibiotics, high-hormones regime. Not. A. Chance. The energy required for doing all the latter is orders of magnitude more than that for the former.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:39 PM on November 26, 2007


Petro-beef. Beautiful. I'm stealing that term.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:47 PM on November 26, 2007


Pound-for-Pound, Beef Produced with Grains and Growth Hormones Produces 40% Less Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Saves Two-Thirds More Land for Nature Compared to Organic Grass-Fed Beef

Well, fucking duh. Why do you think they started industrial meat growing in the first place? Lower expenses, less land; pass the savings on to the obese, tumour-ridden customer, pardners!

But if I eat organic, it's not to save the goddamn planet, which will carry on with or without the human race, it's because I personally prefer to defer getting sick and dying as long as possible.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:01 PM on November 26, 2007


"I'd rather we just have fewer people and more beef."

Well, the solution there is obvious if you make people your beef.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:07 AM on November 27, 2007


From the article on why a diet with a bit of meat can be less land-intensive than a vegetarian diet:
"The reason is that fruits, vegetables and grains must be grown on high-quality cropland, he explained. Meat and dairy products from ruminant animals are supported by lower quality, but more widely available, land that can support pasture and hay."
That would be why pre-modern British people ate more meat than many other Europeans - not because they were so rich, but because they had a lot of not very good land.
posted by jb at 5:07 AM on November 27, 2007


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