When cows are outlawed ...

 

In a letter to the editor, rancher John Marble writes, "I doubt many items in the organic produce aisle are grown with as little environmental impact as our beef" (HCN, 9/14 & 9/28/09). A while back, I discovered a remarkable statistic: Making a pound of beef creates 36 times the greenhouse gas emissions that creating a pound of chicken does. If this statistic is true even within an order of magnitude, it's still a big-enough difference to give one pause. If it's actually accurate, though, then it should alter the behavior of anybody who really cares about the planet. Thirty-six times! That, to me, is big enough to justify anti-beef legislation, beef taxes, and a publicly funded anti-beef public awareness campaign using tools like billboards and television ads –– and I say that as a dyed-in-the-wool libertarian.

That said, I certainly sympathize with ranchers, and I do think they are often more ecologically minded than they are given credit for being. And yes, livestock grazing can have an impact similar to that of bison, and can actually promote native vegetation over invasives. All of this fades into the background, however, in the face of that amazing statistic. I think what is needed is a research program, conducted with some urgency, to decide what other grazing animal we ought to switch to. There certainly seem to be other possibilities, from llamas to sheep to emus to kangaroos to pronghorns to bison to goats.

Once we determine which of these is a better choice than cows, we ought to switch immediately, possibly by simply outlawing the raising or importing of cattle. We are only attached to cattle for reasons of tradition and culture, and quite frankly, that's not enough of a justification.

Ben Haller
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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