These days everyone from celebrities to journalists to politicians has an opinion about the “right” way to raise food. Too often their criticism of ranchers like me and my family relates to the environment and the crazy and misguided notion that raising cows for food is bad.
I can’t ever remember a time when my family wasn’t in the cattle business. After all, our goal is and has always been to keep our business around for as long as possible. For four generation now we’ve done that. We’ve worked this land, conserved and preserved it, so that our children and grandchildren can continue on with the family business.
This wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t take care of what we have, which leads me to my point. A lot of people may talk about minimizing impacts on the environment, but Texas ranchers actually get up and do it every day.
If you’re unfamiliar with the beef industry, or maybe confused about what it is my family does, let me help clear up some of the misinformation that’s out there. For starters, today’s American rancher feeds about 144 people worldwide, compared to 26 people in 1960. This number will only increase in the future. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization projects that in 50 years the world population will need 70 percent more food than what we have now.
How will we increase our supply? We can’t tear down cities to make room for increased grazing lands, so we must make more beef using fewer resources. Texas ranchers are doing this now, and we will continue to do this even as grazing lands become more scarce while the population continues to boom.
We are constantly creating new, innovative practices that help us do more with less, and it’s working. Today’s rancher produces 13 percent more beef from 30 percent fewer animals, minimizing resources like land and water. The carbon footprint of beef has been reduced by more than 16 percent, and the overall environmental impact of producing beef continues to shrink—even though we continue to feed more and more people. Each pound of grain-finished beef today requires 45 percent less land, 76 percent less water, 49 percent less feed, generates 51 percent less manure and 42 percent less carbon emissions. We’re proud of our environmental track record, and rightfully so.
And while celebrities and politicians alike try to encourage Americans from eating beef because it’s “bad for the environment”, the facts simply tell a different story. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, all of U.S. agriculture in total accounts for only 6 percent of our country’s greenhouse gas emissions. More specifically, the entire livestock sector accounts for only 3.4 percent. You certainly don’t hear or read about those statistics very often.
When you consider that you’re getting a safe and high-quality product that provides 10 essential nutrients necessary for a healthy, active lifestyle, a 3.4 percent impact seems pretty minimal.
I want people to know that the U.S. beef supply is the safest, healthiest and most abundant in the world. It’s produced with the utmost care for the animals and the environment. They should know that they just don’t have to take my word for it, but that many experts agree that U.S. beef production serves as a model for the rest of the world.
Maybe you celebrate Earth Day on a specific day or throughout the entire month of April. As you do so, keep in mind that Texas ranchers protect the earth every day, and have been doing so long before there was a designated holiday. We take great pride in providing safe and healthy food for our family and yours.
Please know that you can feel good about choosing beef because it’s not only good for you and your family, but also good for the environment.
Blake Birdwell is a fourth generation rancher. He lives in Muleshoe, Texas, with his wife Elaine and young son Beau. He and his dad, Clay Birdwell, are partners in the Hip O Cattle Co. They run a cow-calf operation and raise horses.