By Robert McKnight Jr., president, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association
At the beginning of this century, the ranching community knew that one day major food manufacturers and retailers would be talking about animal welfare. We suspected that those companies might someday require us to prove that our standard operating procedures include caring for livestock and making sure we provide for them in a humane and safe manner.
In 2018, we are well into that “someday.” Words like “humanely raised” and “ethically harvested” are descriptors for beef in restaurants ranging from white tablecloth establishments to fast-casual franchises. We as ranchers take those practices for granted, but it is good to know that our friends across the country are being told about our sustainable management by those who sell our beef.
Earlier this year, We Work, an international company that provides working spaces for businesses of all sizes, told their 6,000 staff members that they could no longer include the cost of any meal containing beef, poultry, or pork on their company expense reports. We Work has also stopped serving meat at company meetings and events.
The leaders of the company apparently believe that reducing meat consumption reduces a person’s environmental impact and are forcing this opinion on others via the workplace.
This is an interesting approach to advocating for a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle and is a stab at animal agriculture. It’s right out of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) playbook.
In July, HSUS hosted the Taking Action for Animals conference in Arlington, Virginia. One of the topics of discussion was how to create change by engaging the corporate community. Attendees were encouraged to be relentless in their work to get institutions to agree to change a menu or policy about meals.
If groups like HSUS are successful, they can influence decision-makers who affect thousands by forcing their perspectives onto employees.
We Work is not alone in turning away from animal protein. Medical professionals at, or associated with, Midland Memorial Hospital have formed MidlandHealth.org. Their initiative, a 501(c)(3) called Healthy City, has the commendable goal of making Midland the healthiest community. Healthy City, however, advocates for a plant-based diet in which meat, poultry, fish, dairy products and eggs are eliminated or minimized.
I am not surprised that a global company like We Work would support a plant-based diet. It is much more startling to hear this philosophy from health professionals in West Texas.
In 2018, it seems unlikely that Americans or our international consumers will turn away from beef and other animal proteins. However, I remember back to 2000; we weren’t sure how quickly food companies would highlight our stewardship of livestock in their marketing messages and on their menus.
If the concept that a plant-based diet is better for the environment, or healthier for an entire community is left unchallenged, what might we face 20 years from now?
We have data that shows the ever-shrinking environmental footprint of beef production, especially here in the U.S. Compared to 1977 we produce the same amount of beef with 33 percent fewer cattle. Fewer cattle means fewer greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. beef community has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world — lower even than some nations. Greenhouse gas emissions from cattle account for only 2 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
We have solid research that shows beef can be part of a healthy and balanced diet. Nine extra-lean beef cuts have been certified by the American Heart Association’s® (AHA) Heart-Check program, which means they carry the AHA Heart-Check certification for foods that fit in an overall heart-healthy dietary pattern.
Members of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) have been named regional and national winners of environmental stewardship awards. Our partners at the Texas Beef Council have dietary data and sustainability research that tells the real story of beef in Texas and the U.S.
When questions arise, ask a cattle producer. We work tirelessly to be the best stewards possible of land and livestock and are ready to be a resource for you.