My Beef with Beef

Anika Roller - 1A Environmental
Posted on: October 23, 2016

I do not eat beef. It’s not because I can’t and it’s not because it may be bad for me, but rather because I decided to stop turning a blind eye to one of the biggest and baddest global industries. As somebody who cares for the environment, I realized quickly that I had to stop contributing to the extremely high demand for beef that society already has.

First of all, supermarket cattle is raised in completely inhumane conditions. When cows are being raised to be eaten, they are not treated like animals, but more like inanimate objects. They are not always marked with regular tags – some companies use hot branding irons to seemingly burn a label into the cows. They are not given veterinary care, resulting in preventable deaths to far too many cows.

Furthermore, the living conditions are deadly to them. There are cattle farms in Texas and Arizona where cows die from heat stroke, and there are farms in Montana and Nebraska where cows freeze to death due to insufficient living conditions. Worst of all, they are raised in their own waste. Because of the high beef demand, these cattle farms maximize production by squeezing as many cows as possible into the farm, where they stay for days on end living in their own manure. This manure releases methane, ammonia, and other toxic gases, thereby poisoning the cows.

The demand for beef is so high that the powerhouse industries, such as SuKarne, require expansion. This expansion results in the plowing of land. The Prairies are the prime source of land sacrificed to the beef industry. As a result, Prairie land is now only 20% the size of what it used to be, which is unfortunate given its significant role in storing carbon. The Native Prairies are estimated to have up to 200 tonnes of carbon per hectare, equivalent to the amount of carbon that is released by 150 cars in one year. When the grass and shrubs of the Prairies are plowed, this stored carbon is released.

The cows themselves also have a significant impact on the environment. They release great amounts of greenhouse gases which eat away at the ozone layer and increase the rate of global warming. Cow manure accounts for 5% of the methane released by the industry; 60% comes from the gastrointestinal tracts of the cows. All of this methane that is released accounts for 25% of the total methane emissions in the world. This is very significant, since methane is considered among the worst greenhouse gases for its contribution to global warming.

Significant amounts of nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas, are also released. This gas is most detrimental in terms of global warming. It is emitted from cow manure when the cows are being fed excessive amounts of protein, and from croplands if too much nitrogen is being applied to the crops.

In summary, when I think of beef, I think of pros and cons. It tastes great and makes for a good burger, but that is short term pleasure. The only pro of the beef industry for me lasts only a couple moments while I’m eating, but the negative effects are so long term and permanent that I cannot convince myself that eating beef is worth it.