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A Cow of a Way to Eat Meat

December 18, 2017

One Man’s Beef with the Australian Livestock Industry.

By Dave Goldberg

The average earthling eats 34 kg of meat a year. The average USA citizen 93. The average Australian 90 kg. Silver medal – but is it an award we should be proud of and what’s the real price we’re paying?

Australia is eight million square kilometres of land. Half of that is dedicated to beef production at the moment, and as you read this article 40 football fields worth of land is being cleared of scrub in Queensland and NT alone every hour – all for beef production – maybe half for export. Two tractors with a ball and chain between them simply drive forward and flatten everything between them, and the debris is burnt.

In Queensland last year this activity alone emitted 36 million tonnes of CO2 - to get the same greenhouse effect, you would have to put an extra eight million cars on the road, doing the current average driving. And we haven’t started growing our beef yet. Queensland’s overall emissions have doubled since 2011.

Stock is usually grass or stubble fed, and “finished” – fattened up – in an intensive cattle feeding lot. Some cattle spend the whole time in an intensive “factory” lot. To keep them healthy on grain (which hungry people could eat), when they’re “designed” for grass, they account for 40% of all antibiotics used in Australia, and they’re now starting to play their part in the emergence of the resistant ‘superbugs’.

From “Farm” (factory?) to Plate.

  • Bread per Kg 1 kg of greenhouse gases (GHG)
  • Lentils per Kg 1 kg GHG
  • Chook per Kg 3 kg GHG
  • Pork    per kg 6 kg GHG
  • Beef    per kg 25 kg GHG*

(*methane stomach, with methane having 84 times the greenhouse activity of CO2)

These emissions translated into driving a car at average Australian fuel efficiency.

  • Bread or lentils/Kg on the plate 3 km
  • Chook 8 km
  • Pork 18 km
  • Beef 74 km

It takes at least 50 000 litres of freshwater to get that kg of beef to your plate, 100 000 if the poor cow spends its whole life in an intensive feedlot. Lentils are about 6 L/kg. We are the driest continent in the world, after Antarctica.

We’ll skip the damage to riverbanks and the pollution problem from feedlots.

Beef is special – a super land clearer and methane emitter, at a time of planetary climate instability. And we don’t just love our beef, we like the prime cuts. Check out the supermarkets – you’ll see fillets and T-bones and sirloins. You’ll be lucky to 5 kg of each out of a 500 kg beast. We waste, because of consumer preference.

We are literally laying waste to half of Australia, and her rivers, and the soil that runs to the reef, and we’re changing the climate quite significantly - for 24 million people - for a meat we don’t need, but love the taste of and can now “afford” everyday – if you only count the dollar cost, not the cost of the war we need to wage on our own land to get our beef on this scale, at this price.

The Good News

You never need to eat beef – a plant based diet, or a plant based diet with occasional other meat or fish – is not just OK: it’s far healthier, and it’s what we’re “designed” for. Your bowel bugs need fibre, and meat is 0.00000% fibre.

But if you really want to, you can source beef that’s been grass-fed near you, or woodland fed up north (if you live up north), avoiding the industrial product in your supermarket and using a butcher who practises nose-to-tail butchering – no wastage, one who uses rotation farming to look after our soils, and one who gives the animal a semblance of normal living, before the quick bolt to the head, and the quick bleed. As against the misery of a foodlot life and an awful trip by truck and maybe boat to an abattoir.

Liver and kidneys are the richest sources of B12, zinc and iron – three times as much as in a steak. Many delicious recipes, most of them traditional, use the “offal” – now called “secondary cuts”. If you use the whole beast – you need fewer beasts. There are more farm animals on the planet than people. Only 3% of animals on earth now are wild.

You can reduce your chance of breast, bowel and prostate cancer by 30%, and heart attacks and stroke by nearly as much, just by reducing your meat consumption from our 90 kg to 30 kg a year – what most other people on the planet are doing. You don’t even have to go vego.

You can have your beef and eat it, if you must.

If we can’t change our consumer habits, the good news is the technologists can mitigate – they can reduce the beef burden on our climate. They have found an algae species that when fed to cattle, reduces their methane emissions from 57 ppm to 10 ppm. Mass production for the livestock industry is three years away. This will limit the damage our beef-based diet is doing to the climate – but not the medical risk to you. If you’re a beef fan, don’t forget your annual bowel screening tests.

Bon appetit, gentle readers.

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