How Now Brown Cow?

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People who are trying to be more eco-friendly are looking at the beef industry with a wary eye. An article in Energy Policy explores how this industry contributes to global warming and examines the efforts of the beef industry to improve practices. With modern day alternative meat products on the market, this is an important read for those who want to learn more about sustainable food production.

Understanding all the changes that have been made could open your eyes to a better way of thinking on what you’re putting into your body and know that you can do something about it.

The beef industry has been spared much of the criticism that the pork and chicken industries have faced for their practices. But like those other industries the beef industry faces its own uphill battle in trying to change its practices in order to accommodate those that are striving for a more environmentally-friendly, sustainable food production model.

Even though whole heartedly agreeing with everything that this article says, I am willing to admit it is not perfect. It misses one important issue: what exactly do those words mean? “Beef” means different things to different people. To someone, a pound of beef means a cow taken from an organic farm and raised humanely until ready for slaughter. To some people, a pound of beef means the same cow that has been raised on the same farm as the aforementioned cow, but instead of being slaughtered at 12 months old, it was slaughtered at 22 months old. To even more people, a pound of beef means something that was produced via a feedlot. The types of meat are vastly different and this is just one small part of the equation.

What does eating less meat do? It means less strain on water resources, which in turn means conserving water. It is also better for the animals because they are not kept in cages their whole lives and treated like machines. It is better for the environment because less fossil fuel is used to produce food. It is better for you because there will be less chance of contracting a disease that could have been prevented by choosing a healthy, organic diet.

So how do we go about making this change? We first must look at the sector of the production itself. The beef industry wants to be sure that they are not being viewed as environmentally-unsustainable and, therefore, would like to emphasize that they are moving forward in this area. They have been supporting research out of Kansas State University on what can be done within this particular sector to produce cattle in a more sustainable way. These findings will help lead to other options for how beef may be further improved in its sustainability. The beef industry is also doing its part by providing assistance in implementing the methods already discovered.

The beef industry is also very supportive of efforts to bring alternative meat products to market. These products are already on the market in other parts of the world and will be expanding into this country once they have received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This growth has been allowed because of over-the-counter (OTC) status that has allowed these products to be sold in grocery stores. Once ready for full OTC status, we can expect an influx of these healthy alternatives for those people who are trying to make a difference by eating less meat while trying to do more good for our planet as a whole.

There is also a push to educate the consumer so that they are aware of what these alternative meat products are and how they can help them become more sustainable. Along with being better for the planet, these products are also healthier for you. The vegetarian diet has shown to promote lowered cholesterol, lower blood pressure and a greater sense of well being. This is great news for anyone who is trying to be more environmentally-friendly while doing something good for their health.

In an effort to increase awareness, grass-fed beef has been used as an example as it better reflects what consumers want in their meat products. These products are marked on the packaging with the words, “grass-fed beef” and they showcase a picture of the animal that has been caught eating its natural diet. Grass-fed cattle have evolved to eat what is right for them in a way that no other species can. They also get extra care from the farmer who raises them. This is similar to what we want for our natural environment: clean water, clean air, healthy forests, healthy animals, and healthy ecosystems of all sizes. The Global Roundtable on Sustainable Beef promotes those same ideals but with a more global scope in mind.

The meat industry is still struggling to understand what the consumer wants and how to make it happen. It should give us some hope that we can be more sustainable in our own choices as consumers. This means looking past the products on the grocery store shelves and seeing what we can do to support sustainable production of food in general, which will ultimately result in a more healthy environment for all of us.

But why stop with beef? There are many other industries, other species, and products that can benefit from our actions.

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