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Cattle: Climate Change Villains or Superheroes?

As you scroll through your newsfeeds, newspapers, and listen to conversations around you, climate change has been the hot topic this week. Not surprisingly, our industry and agriculture in general have become the scapegoats to blame for the changing climate. From statements like “livestock are a leading contributor to GHG emissions” to “the best personal decision you can make for our planet is to go vegan,” our story continues to be told about us... but not by us. Let’s set the record straight and share some true facts about agriculture and climate change.

According to Dr. Frank Mitloehner, a professor at U.C. Davis, if Americans eliminated all animal protein from their diets, they would only reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 2.6 percent. Even if all Americans participated in the popular trend of “Meatless Mondays,” GHG emissions would only drop by 0.5 percent. So let’s break this down with one more tangible example. If you were to go vegan for an entire year, that would save 0.8 tons of GHG emissions. Comparatively, if you were to fly from the United States to Europe, that equates to 0.8 tons for one passenger. Think about it this way, for each vegan who flew to the Paris Climate Accord, the climate benefits of their diet for the entire year was eliminated. These are just some examples of how GHG emissions from livestock are grossly exaggerated compared to their true impacts.

At the end of the day, what is 2.6% really worth? To lose all livestock, specifically cattle, would mean a decrease in GHG emissions initially, but what about all of the benefits we forfeit, as well? A high-quality protein source is only one of the many products provided from cattle. From simple luxuries like softer toilet paper, durable highways, and movie theater film to life essentials like burn ointments, effective insulin replacement, and anti-rejection medications, cattle not only provide at our dinner table, but continue to be an integral part of every American’s life.

Outside of our households, our forests, rangelands, and open spaces have positively benefited from cattle for centuries. Science has shown that responsible livestock grazing is an incredibly effective tool in lowering wildfire risk, as well as reducing the ultimate impact of the fire by slowing down how fast the flames spread and how hot the fire burns. Additionally, livestock grazing has the ability to control invasive weed species growth and creates healthy soil disturbance that allows an incorporation of organic matter, ultimately improving soil health and providing habitat for invertebrates.

Headlines this week have perpetuated a misleading, inaccurate, villainous depiction of cattle as one of the leading causes of climate change. However, as the facts and figures show, cattle might just be the superheroes and not the villains they are portrayed to be. Make sure to share this story and your personal stories on how our climate, and your life, is #BetterWithBeef.

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