The annual Climate Week NYC event, hosted by The Climate Group in partnership with the United Nations, the City of New York and the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, often leads to increased media coverage questioning the sustainability of the cattle industry, but it also provides an opportunity to proactively share beef’s sustainability story and positive information about its role in healthy sustainable diets.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, decided it was time to share the beef industry’s perspective as part of the official Climate Week schedule during this year’s event. The virtual session entitled “Can beef be sustainable? Cattle's role in the climate solution,” was moderated by nutritionist Nicole Rodriguez, RD, NASM-CPT, and featured a panel of speakers including Jessica Gilreath, Ph.D., postdoctoral research associate at Texas A&M University; Jen Johnson Livsey, cattle producer at Flying Diamond Ranch in Kit Carson, Colo.; and Lamar Moore, celebrity chef and winner of Food Network's Vegas Chef Prizefight.
During the session on Sept. 23, more than 300 attendees learned from this panel of diverse perspectives about how the beef community is investing in sustainability and preserving resources for generations to come. Attendees also discovered ways that beef cattle can be a critical part of the climate solution through managed grazing, carbon sequestration, mitigating wildfires, preserving wildlife habitats and more. Through this group of experts, the Beef Checkoff shared the ecosystem services that beef provides as part of a sustainable food supply.
The media’s portrayal of beef as part of the environmental problem has led to confusion among consumers on the industry’s effect on climate change. When asked about cattle’s true environmental impact, Gilreath stressed that cattle are not major emitters of greenhouse gases. “According to the Environmental Protection Agency, greenhouse gas from beef cattle only represents 2% of emissions in the U.S,” she said. “Cattle are part of the natural carbon cycle and the methane they do emit is broken down in the atmosphere in 9 to 12 years.”
Livsey shared her story as a fifth-generation cattle producer on Colorado’s Eastern Plains where arid conditions prove best suited for grazing cattle instead of growing crops. “Cattle interacting with grasses on the landscape are needed to maintain a healthy watershed, provide wildlife habitat and create an overall healthy ecosystem,” she said during the webinar. “And we are not alone in our sustainability efforts as thousands of cattle producers across the country are constantly making improvements to practices based on their specific ecosystems.”
The role beef plays as part of a healthy diet also took center stage during the discussion. Rodriguez emphasized the versatility of more than 40 cuts of lean beef, packed with protein and other nutrients. “Cattle take plants inedible to humans and create a delicious and nutritious food,” she said. “Beef also serves as a good vehicle for the conscious consumption of more fruits and vegetables.” Meanwhile, Moore highlighted the ways chefs build menus around beef as a sustainable food.
Can cattle be part of the climate solution? According to Gilreath, the answer is a resounding yes. “Cattle ranches benefit society by helping with water regulation and purification, carbon sequestration, and wildfire suppression, especially in the West,” she said. Everyone from pasture to plate has a part to play in sharing beef’s sustainability story. “As a chef, I have the opportunity to teach people about how cattle are raised and to explain how eating beef is healthy for both people and the environment,” said Moore. “It really comes down to education, learning where beef is coming from and getting to know the families producing the product.”
Livsey agreed, concluding “We need to emphasize to consumers that the families producing beef are doing their very best for their animals and their land. We work every day to make improvements and we are proud of the product that ends up on dinner tables across the country, including mine.”
In addition to the webinar, leading up to Climate Week, NCBA leveraged a variety of tactics to share the information about beef sustainability and nutrition, including submitting letters to the editor and op-eds across the country; developing shareable infographics and videos; hosting a radio media tour with a celebrity chef; partnering with TimeOut New York to feature sustainability in New York ranches; and even showcasing beef sustainability on a billboard in Times Square. For more information about sustainability efforts, visit https://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/newsroom/sustainability.