Beef, climate and what it has to do with your diet

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A webinar titled “Choosing a climatarian diet: Beef as an ultimate climate-smart food” featured a panel of speakers ranging from a cattle rancher to a chef. The event was sponsored by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board.

Featured on the panel was Billy Gascoigne, national director of agriculture and strategic partnerships at Ducks Unlimited; Robbie LeValley, cattle rancher from Colorado; Jared Block, key account manager, Brew-to-Moo program, Wilbur-Ellis; Clay Mathis, PhD, director and endowed chair, King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management at Texas A&M University-Kingsville; Mary Cressler, founder of Vindulge and author of Fire + Wine cookbook; and Jess Pryles, meat scientist; creator and CEO of Hardcore Carnivore moderated the panel.

Consumers don’t have to be worried about the beef on their plate being sustainable, and a climatarian diet is one that incorporates beef—instead of excluding it and other animal protein sources. The panelists hoped to help those watching uncover the role beef production plays in a climate-smart food system.

Beef’s role in climate smart food for Mathis is one that achieves three accomplishments—it feeds people, and in the process of producing the beef, cattle help with plant root growth, which reduces erosion and produces clean water.

“And the third thing is, cattle can upcycle nutrients—graze for forages and turn it into a human edible protein product,” he said. “Those three things—that’s climate friendly to me.”

Block agreed. Especially since at Wilber Ellis Nutrition researchers are working to harness the unique functions of the rumen in cattle.

“They’re able to upcycle vast majority of available proteins and fats and starches and all sorts of organic materials that otherwise in a lot of these situations would go to some sort of wasteland type situation,” he said.

In conservation, Gascoigne has learned that by keeping cattle on the landscape grasslands continue to stay in working order.

“But when thinking about carbon in a climate context, we need to think about not only the ability to pull carbon out of the atmosphere, but actions on the landscape that result in more carbon going into the atmosphere,” he said.

Grazing helps retain more carbon in the soil. Mathis said under the right management the waste from animals can help maintain or keep some of the carbon within the soil, along with some of the co-products and food by-products that are being fed to livestock instead of potentially going into landfills. Or those products that produce and release gases into the environment are reduced when livestock are using it.

LeValley said in the climate change conversation it is often reported that if livestock were simply removed from the landscape and food chain, then climate change would be addressed. She knows that’s simply not true.

“We know from research, and we know from a practical standpoint, and we literally know from generations of observation that when you remove the ability to graze or to harvest these landscapes, then the root mass under the significant amount of these grass species then is not as deep and as not as high volume,” she said. “And that alone is part of the reason we do have that ability to store carbon.”

Additionally, if the grass species are not actively managed and harvested, the leaves become thinner, narrower and thus reduce photosynthesis as well as the number of buds that initiate into leaves.

“So simply removing animals from a landscape while these grass species will still be here will not have that larger volume of root mass or the wider and thicker leaves,” she said. “Which then actually reduces the resiliency to handle the climatic changes that we see with the droughts that are here on the western landscape.”

Pryles said she hears the argument if the cattle weren’t around, there’d be more land available to grow crops. But that’s not necessarily true, and LeValley said the majority of her Colorado rangelands are in areas that can’t be farmed.

“You would not see a human out here utilizing this grass right here, or this shrub, or any of the landscape here, but our wildlife does, and our soil microbes do and our threatened species do, as well as our livestock,” she said. “We’re efficient with providing that food security and the food supply for an ever increasing nation.”

She’s thrilled the cattle can utilize the grass, taking the cellulose and turning it into a high quality protein consumers can enjoy. Mathis thinks this is a great perspective to have.

“If we if we consider that about 30% of the land in the United States isn’t land that we can farm and produce food for humans,’ he said. “But much of that is land that can be used for grazing cattle and we go back to the whole idea of upcycling, they can go graze that and when they do they take that that forage in and they convert it to beef.”

Learn more about beef’s role in the climate solution at https://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/raising-beef.

As reported in the High Plains Journal

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