Monday, September 17, 2007

Beef Myths Exposed as Pure Bull

Cattle Beef Ethanol Feed Grain Corn FuelIn the ongoing discussion about food versus fuel issues in America, some activists have made outrageous claims concerning how food is grown and raised.

It's hard to take these fringe groups seriously--even when one wants to believe some parts of their tales---when the crazies parade themselves nude in public, run scary ads aimed at children blaming their parents for animal murder or purport that eating meat voids your environmental efforts.

The beef industry, like other agricultural commodities, gets its share of these wacky, quacky claims as well. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association has taken some of these claims head-on with an informative web page (updated):
The activist myth goes something like this: meat production uses outrageous amounts of water, feed and land that should be used for something else. The truth is it takes 2.6 pounds of grain* and 435 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef in the United States. The reality is that 85 percent of the nation’s grazing lands are not suitable for farming. It is important that we use land that is too rough, too high, too dry, too wet and largely inaccessible to graze livestock to produce food for the world’s population. Cattle eat forages that humans cannot consume and convert them into a nutrient-dense food.

Claim: 16 pounds of grain and soybeans are needed to produce 1 pound of beef.
Fact: This estimate is based on the false assumption that beef cattle are fed grain diets from birth to market weight. According to the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) 1999 Animal Agriculture and Global Food Supply Report, an average of 2.6 pounds of grain is used to produce a pound of beef in developed countries and 0.3 lb. in developing countries. Animals don’t steal grains destined for the world’s hungry; instead they consume large amounts of feedstuffs not suitable for human consumption. This includes forage from marginal land that can’t be cultivated for human foods and food processors’ byproducts such as citrus pulp brewers’ grains, almond hulls and tomato pomace. The soybean product fed to cattle is a meal made of the bean flakes, which remain after the soy oil is extracted for human consumption. In addition,corn fed to cattle is feed corn grown specifically for use as livestock feed and of lower quality than corn grown for human consumption.

Claim: A 1,250 pound beef steer finished in a feedlot on corn will have consumed in his lifetime roughly 284 gallons of oil.
Fact: This claim, made by Cornell University’s Dr. David Pimentel, in a March 31, 2002 New York Times Magazine article is based on erroneous data and outdated assumptions about corn production. Energy efficiency has significantly increased agricultural productivity; for example, producing a bushel of corn today requires about half the energy it did 25 years ago. Rather than 284 gallons of oil, a more realistic figure is 13.83 gallons, according to a 2002 analysis conducted by Dr. Michael S. Graboski of the Colorado School of Mines for National Corn Growers Association.
The site continues examining a number of other beef myths so it is worth reading the entire article.

* On a related note, 2.6 pounds of grain is a small portion of the cost of beef. Something to consider when we read that increased feed costs are driving up final consumer food costs.

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