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Earth Day - Myths and Facts about Beef Cattle and the Beef Industry

Updated on April 23, 2010

Myths to Dispell

Since it's Earth Day today, it's time I take the time to dispel some myths that you may have heard of regarding the animal ag industry, particularly the beef industry.

Myth: Cows are a major contributor to global warming and greenhouse gas emissions.

Fact: The Environmental Protection Agency writes that the entire agriculture sector produces just "6% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions." And EPA data also show that domestic livestock production is only responsible for 2.4%. In any event, blaming meat producers for greenhouse gas output is a silly exercise. If livestock production disappeared tomorrow, we would just be transporting more tofu around, and plowing and fertilizing the land to supply a new vegetarian utopia. There wouldn't be a significant environmental benefit. -- David Martosko, director of research, Center for Consumer Freedom.

- According to the FAO "Livestock's Long Shadow," livestock alone only contribute to 11.5% of carbon equivalent emissions: 0.5% of that is carbon dioxide emissions, and 5.5% each of methane and nitrous oxide.  Not very much is it?  That 18% you keep hearing about is the contributions of livestock AND land use, land use change and forestry.  But really, many of those who quote this number fail to mention the LULUCF factor that the FAO had added in. And when you look at it, that 11.5% is quite a bit smaller than the transportation contribution.

Myth: It takes 10 lbs of grain to get 1 lb of beef. Why not cut out the "middleman" and have humans eat corn (or other grains) instead?

Fact: Cattle serve a valuable role in the ecosystem by converting plants humans cannot consume into a nutrient-dense food. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide. Beef provides the most readily available and easily absorbed source of iron. In fact, just one 3-ounce serving of beef supplies 51% of the Daily Value (DV) for protein, 38% of the DV for zinc and 14% of the DV for iron.

- Also, much of the "grain" humans eat must be processed in the factory or by a mill before it can be used for food production. We humans cannot get the nutrients from the same feed that cattle eat, simply because our digestive systems are much different than cattle.

- In the world of corn, humans can only eat corn (the kernels) when it is at at the perfect stage (like you see in packaged corn). Corn that is dried naturally cannot be consumed readily by us humans, and thus has to be milled and processed before it can be consumed. Furthermore, we humans can only eat 5% of the entire corn plant. Cattle, on the other hand, can eat 95% of the corn plant at ANY stage, be it dried and dead, or just coming up from it's seed.

Myth: Grazing cattle contribute to widespread overgrazing, soil erosion, and overall grassland degradation, and thus are a negative impact on the environment.

Fact: This only occurs in contries where education for grazing cattle properly is almost non-existant. Fact is, in North America, grassland benefits from grazing cattle, as many pasture and rangeland practices are in place to more efficiently graze more cattle on a smaller area of land in order to boost grassland production.

- Grazing animals on land not suitable for producing crops more than doubles the land area that can be used to produce food. If 1955 technology were used to produce the amount of beef raised today,165 million more acres of land would be needed – that’s about the size of Texas!

- North America’s beef farmers and ranchers are committed to protecting the environment. Cattlemen and women incorporate a variety of best management practices to ensure the beef industry is in compliance with environmental requirements. For cattle farmers, the land is their livelihood and their legacy. They carefully follow science-based best management practices to protect our country’s natural resources for future generations. In fact, ranchers have led conservation efforts proving that raising cattle and environmental stewardship go hand-in-hand.

- About half of the world’s land surface is suitable only for rangeland and not for growing food crops. But rangelands produce significant quantities of grasses, shrubs and forbs that only livestock can utilize. Well-managed grazing of rangelands, grasslands and pastures is the most sustainable form of agriculture known.

Myth: Eating red meat is bad for you. It causes obesity, cancer, heart disease, and clogged arteries.

Fact: Much of the junk food and highly-processed food we eat today is to blame for that, as well as increased serving sizes, and an increase in technological devices that invite less excersize less often. There is far more junk food and processed goods sold to consumers than there was 50 or even 100 years ago. Many folks ate beef as a part of their diet on a daily basis a long time ago, and there were very few cases of health problems then.

- Eating naturally-raised grass-fed beef is like getting back to the old days where implementing growth hormones, antibiotics and feeding junk food to cattle as a cheaper feed source was nil.
- Beef contains high amounts of iron, zinc and protein. It is also an excellent source of B-vitamins, such as vitamin B12.


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    • WildRoseBeef profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      Thank you lo-ki, I appreciate that. :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Wow- this has been some serious sparring and you are definitely right, it’s time to throw in the towel. I’d like to thank you for actually being objective and fair in letting these comments be posted along with responding (instead of cowering away like some others I have encountered). You deserve credit for that and when others read this- no matter what they think, they have to agree that this is at least honorable. (If not, then they’re pretty dam_ dumb.)

      With real sincerity… best of luck in your future studies and your career!

    • WildRoseBeef profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      I don't know if I'd call it supporting (seems that way though, don't it?) the issue, it's just one more thing to pick apart and analyze a bit deeper. And this of course can lead to over-analyzing which I believe both you and I can get so caught up into, not to mention everyone else who tries to make a point as to which side they stand on.

      They are big numbers, absolutely! That's why percentages make it so much easier to understand, lol! And it's the numbers game that bothers me more than than anything, which you and I both agree with. I mean you're right, there's those that can have the accountability and then there's those who like to pull numbers out of a hat or from midair and expect people to believe them. I try very hard to not be the latter, but due to rookie errors of forgetting to source my sources it's easy for anyone, even someone like you to question what I say. So I admit to that and apologize that I didn't do that beforehand.

      I'm sorry you had to see the other comments I got on my other posts, some can get less than kind than others lol. So no hard feelings. :) I just tend to be pretty blunt when I get comments like that, since I can either sit back and let the $h!t hit the fan or get in and try to, well, defend and provide merit to the views that I've written in my other hubs. And oh yes, they are controversial! That's the fun part about blogging and hubbing, you post an opinion and wait for the hate mail to fly! :D

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hmm. I’m not referring to you by your name or using all caps. Maybe I came off a little bold, but it came from reading how you respond to people in your previous posts. For that I am sorry if you feel hurt. However, it is clear that there is some bias or a chip on your shoulder towards those who practice certain ways of eating or care about the environment that I think is not respectful and sets a bad example.

      I did take a look at this link you provided for the table and now I am the one confused… how does this support your stance on the matter? On the previous page, it clearly states under point 3.4 “Table 3.12 summarizes livestock’s overall impact on climate change by: major gas, source and type of production system.” Those little numbers you are reading on the table are huge! These are the measured changes actually happening because of the other bigger number emission percentages written under each pollutant’s section on page 112.

      It’s funny to me how you mention that the discrepancies in the actual greenhouse percentages bothers you, which is something that we apparently have in common. It is actually how I found your writing in the first place, as I was trying to find some more recent numbers while chatting with a friend about it. In reading your piece and then looking at your other writings, I was really disturbed at the fact that you just seem to dismiss the severity of the impact on the world. Yeah the numbers may not match up, but they are definitely bigger than the ones you are giving out. (Also, numbers can be affected by a variety of factors- not everyone is going to get the same results globally and things/ conditions change from year to year). The fact that you are going to take any magazine over actual government reports (that you reference when it works for you) or even journals says a lot. Just so you know the difference, some have accountability while others can say or do as they please… just like in your own circumstance.

    • WildRoseBeef profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      Sounds like I'm not the only one getting irate, nor condescending.

      I don't need a lecture or a definition as what is or isn't "misleading information" and "throwing names around," I'm totally aware at what those are.

      But I really think you just completely misread what I was trying to say. I don't remember saying anywhere that I agreed with the numbers provided by FAO, and if you think I'm contradicting myself, why don't you take a look at the Livestock Long's Shadow website/book yourself? GOOGLE it. I said the FAO numbers are "out to lunch" because, IF you READ the Livestock's Long Shadow book, the FAO says that the methane emissions from livestock are 37% (approx.), which is totally different from the EPA's 20% emissions. Don't you see the difference? Can't you see the contradictions here??? THAT is why I was saying it was so out to lunch, but instead you think it's because I "don't like them." I never said anything like that, now did I?

      And how in the heck can you say I made up these percentages? REally, I think you're the one with the problems here and the one who needs to do his own research instead of being so quick on the "Accuse" button and flaying me out for providing "misleading information." Check out this link: and click on Part IV. There's a table on pg.113 that has the whole summary, and it's there you can do the calculations as how I came up with these so-called "false percentages."

      And you've got the nerve to call me biased? What about the crap that EPA's stirred up in the past with the dust tax and cow tax? Yeah, the EPA's not perfect, but it sure as heck isn't something I'd rely on as a reliable source. Even the FAO isn't a reliable source either since there's a whole pile of holes in their report.

      So try to be careful as to who you call biased or niave. Even the beef magazines are good with their own sources and can be pretty reliable as well, probably even more so than those friggin vegan/vegetarian magazines.

      But whatever, we're all entitled to our own opinions.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      First off, just in case you don’t understand what misleading information is, “To lead into error of thought or action, especially by intentionally deceiving.” (from This is what you are doing when you give untrue numbers by the EPA. By giving these false percentages and attaching the EPA name to it, people assume what you say is true when it is not. That’s throwing names around- when what you should be doing is showing where (not just who) you get this information from. I believe that someone else previously called you on this method of fact sharing too.

      I never said the EPA was better than the FAO, but oddly you seem to be contradicting yourself by now saying the FAO has released numbers higher than the EPA. Good for you for finally clearing the facts up! Now we see that not only has the FAO found information that supports the EPA about emissions, but also that you just think those numbers are “out-to-lunch” because you probably don’t like them… sorry, but that's just not how the world really works.

      The fact that you can’t figure out where the EPA gets their information from proves the type of researcher you are. Click on the on the home page link and then go to their about EPA page to see where their lab, research or office facilities are in the U.S. These are collection agencies or research labs that collect data and compile it into these reports… in other words, they are their own source. If you are confused about this, then google it.

      What you have just done is shown everyone is how biased you are with Beef Magazine as your possible reputable source and your irate tone.

      Your welcome.

    • WildRoseBeef profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      What I'd like to know, lo-ki, is where the EPA gets their information from. The other half of the information I got from above is from the UN FAO's Livestock's Long Shadow, and FYI a lot of the information I shared from above came from the BEEF magazine (likely from here: but not the exact source). So I really don't know how you can accuse me of "throwing names around" when even the EPA isn't a reliable source as much as the FAO is.

      Also, you're just mentioning methane emissions. At least the EPA isn't as out-to-lunch on the percentage of methane emissions from livestock as the FAO is.

      So please don't try to tell me that I'm posting "misleading information." Like I mentioned above, I would really like to know where the EPA gets their information from, unlike the FAO since they've at least got their sources cited.

      Thanks anyway for the comment.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am really disturbed at how you are just posting misleading information... especially about the EPA. Just so you don't discount me with your apparent prejudice visible from your other postings, for the record I am not vegan/ vegetarian (I am also not naïve, I can add the numbers too like you like to do and I can read- which I have done a lot of on this subject). For your information, this was on the EPA site:

      "ruminant livestock produce about 80 million metric tons of methane annually, accounting for about 28% of global methane emissions from human-related activities"


      "In the U.S., cattle emit about 5.5 million metric tons of methane per year into the atmosphere, accounting for 20% of U.S. methane emissions"

      This only accounts for "methane" from live animals used for meat and dairy production. In simpler terms- this excludes chickens and pigs, and also means it doesn't account for all the toxins and pollutants used/ released during processing. You interpret and add add it together any way you want, or maybe you have different numbers to play with in Alberta, but don't be giving the wrong data from the EPA!

      Since you are reluctant to cite your sources (and I mean where you got it from- not just throwing names around to enhance your credibility) here is the exact page where these 2 lines are from:

    • WildRoseBeef profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      Thanks Goldie! I too have heard about the use of ammonia in preparation of meat for consumers, and to me it seems to be more of a band-aid treatment for the prevention of pathogens than anything, since it does nothing to stop the incidence of E. coli contaminating beef hamburger that we see so often in the news. That's just my opinion of course.

      My favorite steak? Hmm...I don't really have a favorite, just so long as it tastes good (not too fatty, but lean and tender), it's worth eating! :D

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      I am B12 deficient - due to my Grandmother - yes, the one named Grandma Goldie but of course! I have learned to love beef but I have become so particular here in the United States we have allowed processing with ammonia. The sad thing is it is not disclosed which makes me very angry.

      I love reading about myths and learning the truth.

      As a certified personal trainer, I cringe when we read about the avoidance of beef - beef is good for us in moderation as is all things. Thank you for hitting that final note! I love beef and know it is good for me. I proudly can say I have avoided fast food for months and am eating better with my local meat.

      I do wish Wal-Mart would carry beef that is labelled ammonia free. Perhaps someday they will get wise.

      Curiosity - off the topice - what is your favorite steak?

    • WildRoseBeef profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      Thank you!

    • Phillyfreeze69 profile image


      8 years ago

      Very informative hub about the global emission of gas contributed to cows, the FACTS are loud and clear. There is so much misinformation concerning global warming that the"facts" can be lost. I only recently learned that the state of Kentucky is the largest cattle producer east of the Mississippi river...most people know of the Kentucky Derby, Thorobred Horses, Bluegrass and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Enjoyed reading this very informative and enlightening hub. Keep up the good work.


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