Dispelling myths about the beef industry

-Submitted photo
Cattle are beneficial in a sustainable food system because of their unique stomach structure, which allows them to eat and digest what we as humans can’t.

Courtesy of the Iowa Beef Industry Council

Iowa is a known leader for agricultural production, a frontrunner in corn, pork and egg production. Let’s not forget about the beef. Iowa ranks fourth for cattle and calves on feed, eighth in cattle and calves inventory. In 2020 USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service projected more than $6 billion in economic contribution to Iowa’s economy. All that aside, consumers are inundated with information regarding what to eat and the health implications associated with diet choices. Furthermore, society has growing consciousness about the environmental impacts of choices we make regarding diet, transportation, home goods, etc. Let’s dig into commonly asked questions surrounding beef production.

• Sustainable food system: Would less beef be better?

Myth: Eating beef is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

Fact: Cattle are beneficial in a sustainable food system because of their unique stomach structure, which allows them to eat and digest what we as humans can’t. In addition to the grasses they graze on for most of their lives, they can eat numerous other byproducts from plant-based food production, such as brewers grains, pea pulp, beet tops, potato peelings and sunflower hulls. These are all byproducts of human activities or other products, such as pea-protein burgers and meat crumbles. Instead of going to a landfill, cattle eat these “waste” products and turn them into a high-quality protein edible for human consumption. Research has demonstrated that removing all livestock and poultry from the U.S. food system would reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 2.6 percent and global emissions by 0.36 percent. Emissions from cattle, including those that come from the feed production, fuel, and electricity only account for 3.7 percent, respectively.

When it comes to productivity, in the U.S., we produce the same amount of beef today with 33 percent fewer cattle compared to 1977, and 18 percent of the world’s beef with only 6 percent of the world’s cattle. This is a result of better animal health and welfare, better animal nutrition and better animal genetics, all of which are supported by the Beef Quality Assurance Program.

• Alternative proteins: Better than real beef?

Myth: Alternative proteins are a healthier choice compared to beef.

Fact: While alternative proteins are gaining attention and space in the fridge and on plates, their perceived health benefits may not outweigh the nutritional consequences of not including lean meats in your diet. We like black beans, quinoa, and edamame too, especially when they are paired with a great beef meal. But they are no substitute for beef’s high-quality protein, which contains fewer calories and more nutrients.

A cooked 3 ounce beef top sirloin steak averages about 156 calories while providing approximately 25 grams of protein, which is nearly half of the recommended daily value. To get the same exact amount of protein (25 grams), you’d need to eat six tablespoons of peanut butter (amount customarily consumed is 2 tablespoons) or a whopping three cups of quinoa (amounts customarily consumed is about 3/4 cup), for instance, which both also deliver a sizable amount of calories (564 calories for peanut butter; 666 calories for quinoa).

• Antibiotic use on the farm, what gives?

Myth: Beef farmers overuse antibiotics.

Fact: Antibiotics are used in animal medicine to prevent, treat, or control disease, which is important to animal and human safety. Cattle farmers and ranchers believe not treating cattle that become sick is inhumane as part of their ongoing commitment to animal health and welfare. When administering antibiotics, they follow product label directions or the prescription provided by their veterinarian, meaning they adhere to usage guidelines to protect both animals and humans that have been rigorously tested and approved by the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Veterinarians routinely advise producers on health protocols and oversee specific protocols implemented for sick animals.

• Do cows come from factory farms?

Myth: Cattle are raised on factory farms owned by large corporations only focused on generating profit with no concern for animal husbandry.

Fact: Did you know that 91 percent of beef cattle operations are family-owned and 78 percent of beef farmers and ranchers intend to pass their operation on to future generations? This longstanding commitment brings with it a strong sense of pride in the lifestyle, the animals and the land. Beef farmers and ranchers voluntarily choose to partake in continuing education through the Beef Quality Assurance program, a common set of guidelines ranchers utilize to implement best management practices for animal care and nutrition.

• Organic versus natural versus grain fed

Myth: The beef production labels on beef products dictates the quality of the product. Grass fed or organic beef is healthier than grain fed beef.

Fact: You’ve likely seen various labels showing that beef is “natural” or “grass fed”, etc. But what do these labels mean? All cattle spend a majority of their lives eating grass on pastures. But beef can be finished in a variety of ways, giving you choices when at the meat case in your local grocery store or at a restaurant. Data shows slight variations in nutritional tabulations between the aforementioned choices, at the end of the day beef packs a powerful bite of protein and the animal’s diet produces subtle nutritional differences in the end product. Beef is a wholesome and nutritious protein choice – consumers can confidently select beef that meets their preferences knowing that all beef is raised in a sustainable manner.

• Pastures for cattle could be used to grow human edible food.

Myth: Cows are utilizing productive acres that could be used to grow human edible foodstuffs.

Fact: Often, the land cattle graze on is not suitable for growing other food products, as it is too rocky, arid, or steep. While some argue that cattle use too much land, these arguments do not consider the countless, invaluable positive outcomes that cattle on grazing lands provide. In particular, managed grazing can support biodiversity, provide wildlife habitat, enhance carbon sequestration, and contribute to nutrient cycling. Livestock grazing is the primary use of approximately 29 percent of all U.S. land including grassland, pasture and rangeland.

Instead, the rate of urban sprawl in the U.S. is of greater concern for protecting our ecosystems. For example, since 1984, more than 1.4 million acres of agricultural land in California have been converted for other uses – 78 percent of which was converted to urban areas.

Setting the records straight

These are just a few of the questions frequently asked of modern day beef producers. Beef production continues to positively contribute to today’s climate conscious society by converting inedible forages, byproducts and food waste into protein packed beef. Ultimately, providing a nutrient dense protein source for consumers domestically and internationally. beefitswhatsfordinner.com is a great resource for learning about the beef production cycle, nutritional info, sustainability and much more.

All other facts and figures available at beefit’swhatsfordinner.com.


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