In the past few months, the beloved cow has been getting a bad wrap. That large domesticated ungulate that has been providing mankind with meat, dairy products, and other products for centuries suddenly has fallen out of favor, not because they are mean or vicious, but because they can’t keep their gas to themselves.
Politicians are telling us we must stop relying on cattle because the methane they produce is somehow damaging our climate. Never mind the $60 billion beef cattle provides to the American economy. Never mind the additional $40 billion dairy cattle provides to our economy, too. And never mind the health and nutritional benefits of beef, which researchers claim was one of the most important reasons that contributed to the positive health of most Americans and our country’s increasing influence on the world stage.
Most vegans and vegetarians would be appalled by how much red meat Americans consumed a century or more ago. Back then, even chicken was considered a luxury. In 1861 English novelist Anthony Trollope wrote after a trip to the United States that Americans ate twice as much beef as did Englishmen. Charles Dickens also wrote, “no breakfast was breakfast” without a T-bone steak.
The reason for the popularity of beef was simple. Early Americans did not yet have reliable refrigeration. As such, they did not trust fruits and vegetables because they were hard to keep. Beef on the other hand could be preserved without refrigeration if smoked, salt cured, brined, canned, dehydrated, or stored it in lard. And milk produced by dairy cows could be preserved if turned into cheese. And for the first 250 years of American history, even the poor in the United States could afford beef for every meal.
Today we eat far less red meat than our forefathers did. But we are healthier as a result, right? No. During those early days, heart disease in America was rare. Sources of information about death back then shows there was no widespread heart disease before the early 1920s. In fact, the heart disease “epidemic” began after Upton Sinclair wrote the fictional book about the meatpacking industry called “The Jungle.” The popularity of that book caused meat sales in the United States to fall by half in 1906. Sales did not recover for another 20 years…after which heart disease in America was much more common.
Today there are more than 800,000 ranchers and cattle producers and 40,000 dairy farmers in the United States; 97% of which are still operating family owned businesses. If the politicians in Washington and elsewhere had their way, an entire American industry will be gutted when they are done and they will destroy many of those ranches and farms who are already reeling from lower global market prices for their hard work from countries like China, Brazil, India, Mexico, Pakistan, and Russia…who care much, much less about the environment than the United States does.
But what about the greenhouse gases cows fart and burp into the atmosphere on a regular basis. This too is largely a fantasy concocted by those in other countries who would benefit from the U.S. beef industry failing. According to researchers at several prominent American universities, methane from ruminant animals, such as cattle, is a part of a natural carbon cycle and the type of methane produced by cattle is different from the methane created by burning fossil fuels. Fact is, methane from cattle doesn’t stay in the atmosphere very long. Over the course of a decade, the methane emitted from a cow will be degrade through photochemical reactions to carbon dioxide. That carbon dioxide can then again be taken up by plants, and the cycle of life on Earth repeats. Methane produced by burning fossil fuels, however, was created 150,000 to 250,000 years ago and generates far more greenhouse gases in our atmosphere than that produced by the beloved cow.
Instead of turning the cow in America into a evil contributor to the destruction of our planet, most Americans should be giving thanks to the cow for all it did to build a country, feed Americans, and make our country as strong as it is today. Even though herds are much smaller than they were 100 years ago and even though they produce mush less methane and greenhouse gases as a result, there are those who want to make them extinct altogether. Little do they realize they will be doing far more harm to our country and our planet as a result.