Continued concerns about climate change and the desire to protect our natural resources have people all over the globe looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly. These important conversations often lead back to food production—something that, as a cattle rancher, I am very passionate about.
I am proud of the role I play in providing high-quality protein in the most sustainable way possible. The U.S. is the leader in sustainable beef production due to the dedication of the entire beef industry, especially ranchers like me. For example, my family regularly ensures that cattle are spread throughout our pastures by utilizing fencing, watering, and mineral placement techniques to ensure cattle do not overgraze. And this is being done by ranchers across the country, making the most of the resources available where they raise cattle.
The reality is that ranchers make their living from the land and we want to do everything in our power to protect the environment. Preserving natural resources is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes our ranch better and allows us to continue living off the land we love, year after year, generation after generation.
Thanks to widespread confusion and misrepresentation of U.S. beef production with global numbers, you’ve likely heard that U.S. livestock’s contribution to climate change is immense. It is critical for Americans to understand that this is not true. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), beef production in the U.S. is only responsible for 2 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Even when the production of animal feed, fuel and electricity necessary for beef production is factored into the equation, it is still responsible for just 3.7 percent of GHG in the U.S.
In global terms, U.S. beef cattle production accounts for just 0.5 percent of global GHG emissions. According to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, if all livestock in the U.S. were eliminated and every American followed a vegan diet, greenhouse gas emissions would only be reduced by 2.6 percent, or 0.36 percent globally.
In addition to not being impactful on a global scale, removing all cattle would have negative impacts in other areas. Cattle grazing maintains pastureland and open spaces, providing habitats for animals that are often being pushed out by urbanization in other areas. Additionally, cattle generate more protein for the human food supply than would exist without them because their unique digestive system allows them to convert human-inedible plants into high-quality protein. In fact, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 90 percent of what cattle eat is forage and plant leftovers that people can’t eat and would otherwise go to waste—further contributing to our food waste problem. In the face of a growing global population, we need ruminant animals, like beef cattle, to help make more protein with less.
The reality is that consumers in the U.S. and elsewhere are going to continue to eat meat. Farmers and ranchers, like myself, are committed to continuous improvement so that we can produce the beef consumers know and love in the most sustainable way possible. — Kiley Martinell, Montana Beef Council president