Consumer Health & the Environmental Impacts of Raising Beef
Most consumers may not realize that raising beef has a positive impact on local ecosystems. Instead of harming the environment, cattle help protect it. It may also provide a healthier option compared to your current diet.
Here are a few of the ways that the cattle industry supports consumer health and the environment.
- The Beef Industry Produces Minimal Emissions
- Grazing Cattle Help Protect the Grasslands
- Cattle May Reduce the Risk of Prairie Fires
- Protecting the Grasslands Protects Other Species
- Canadians are Replacing Beef with Junk Food
- Last Thoughts on the Benefits of Beef Production
The Beef Industry Produces Minimal Emissions
When it comes to combating climate change, people tend to focus on emissions. Greenhouse gases (GHG) are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
The cattle industry accounts for about 2.4% of GHG emissions in Canada. For comparison, transportation in the country accounts for 28% of Canada’s total GHG emissions.
On a global scale, beef production in Canada only accounts for 0.04% of total GHG emissions. The emissions are minimal compared to other industries and sectors.
Grazing Cattle Help Protect the Grasslands
Beef production may save the shrinking grasslands in Canada, helping to offset the production of emissions. Cultivation and development have destroyed about 74% of Canada’s grasslands. Grazing cattle protect against further loss.
The remaining grasslands in Canada store up to 1.5 billion tons of carbon, which is equal to the emissions produced from 3.62 million cars each year. Cultivating grasslands can cause a 30% to 35% loss of organic carbon.
In the prairies where cattle graze, the grasses produce an enormous amount of dead plant material each year. The dead plants are replaced by new shoots, but the litter accumulates, creating a thick ground covering.
The insulation of the litter keeps the ground cold and blocks nutrients from reaching plants. Grazing cattle help prevent the accumulation of dead plant material. They keep the ecosystem healthy.
Cattle May Reduce the Risk of Prairie Fires
The biomass produced by decaying plants in the prairies can limit the health of nearby plants and grasses. As more plant life dies and the litter creates a thicker ground cover, the area experiences an increased risk of fires.
Along with reducing the buildup of dead plant material, cattle protect the soil with their manure. Manure provides the soil with beneficial nutrients, resulting in healthier grass.
Healthy grass and plant life create more protection from the blazing sun. This reduces the risk of natural fires in the grasslands.
Protecting the Grasslands Protects Other Species
The grasslands are home to a variety of native species, including many bird species. Cattle currently help maintain about 68% of the wildlife habitat capacity in Canada.
Mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, and hundreds of plants co-exist in the Canadian grasslands. Without grazing animals to protect the ecosystem, many of those species would not have a home.
The biggest threats to the grasslands include urban and agricultural development. The use of pesticides and planting crops threatens the native grasslands. Expanding cities also forces animals away from their native habitats.
Over 100 years ago, the grasslands were open to domestic grazing. Ranchers allowed their sheep and cattle to graze freely, resulting in overgrazing. Ranchers today understand the importance of rotating their livestock and using multiple grazing sites.
Cattle can continue to graze while maintaining a healthier ecosystem for the hundreds of species that live in the region.
Canadians Are Replacing Beef with Junk Food
While beef demand remains high, Canadians are slowly eating less each year. According to a poll conducted in 2017, about 72% of Canadians eat less than three servings of red meat per week.
Instead of eating a balanced diet that includes a combination of fresh meat, fruits, and vegetables, many people are filling up on junk food and processed foods. Obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years.
Almost half of the average Canadian’s diet comes from processed foods. Children between the ages of 9 and 13 get about 57% of their calories from nutritionally poor food such as chips and pizza.
Most health experts agree that people should eat red meat in moderation as part of a balanced diet. The evidence shows that eating high amounts of processed meat brings a higher risk of heart disease and cancer. Consuming two to three servings of fresh red meat each week ensures that your body receives essential nutrients.
Some people believe that white meat is the healthier option. While chicken is a good source of protein, beef contains much more zinc, vitamin B12, and iron compared to poultry.
Last Thoughts on the Benefits of Beef Production
Beef undeservedly received a bad reputation. It is a healthy part of a balanced diet. Consuming beef in moderation supplies your body with the necessary nutrients, including protein.
Maintaining demand for beef also aids the health of the Canadian grasslands, which protects the home of countless species of birds, insects, and other animals. With only 26% of native grasslands remaining, it is important to protect every prairies and pasture.
The bottom line is that beef production is beneficial to Canada, its people, and its animals.