Greener is better and will cost you more, too. But is it just the price tag at your local grocer, or does the green revolution have a higher cost on our planet as well?
Terms such as “organic” and “sustainable” are being tossed around in our campus paper as well as larger media sources. Recently, The California Aggie has presented articles with information on vegan, vegetarian and sustainable lifestyles on campus. But the information is biased, with interviews coming from sustainability managers at the dining commons and lifelong vegetarians on campus. Additionally, the blemished perception only gives one side of the story, creating a skewed view that the grass is greener on the sustainable side. But is it?
A year ago The California Aggie printed one of the first articles about Meatless Mondays. It stated that the program provides awareness on sustainability concerns associated with meat consumption such as carbon dioxide, water usage and saturated fats.
Sustainability does not mean lack of meat intake. In fact, the USDA defines sustainable agriculture as “farming systems that are capable of maintaining their productivity and usefulness to society indefinitely. Such systems… must be resource conserving, socially supportive, commercially competitive, and environmentally sound.”
Furthermore, the world population is expected to grow by 2.2 billion people in 40 years, which will decrease water resources and available land. To meet these needs, we have grown in technological advances to create production, harvesting, feeding and growing methods that increase yields, decrease finishing time and generally produce more saleable product for the general consumer. (Finishing time is the life stage where an animal is putting on more fat and less energy into growth so it can reach an appropriate harvest weight.)
Production methods can be further evaluated by researchers including Dr. Jude Capper, of Washington State University, who presented statistics on feedlot versus grass-fed beef. The table provided shows that feedlot cattle require fewer resources and produce fewer emissions than grass-fed cattle. Her research further compares the extended time to produce grass fed beef as an equivalent to putting approximately one more car on the road per single animal. Accordingly, current research is evaluating traditional feeding methods to further decrease carbon emissions while maintaining feed efficiency.
Media hype continues to run complaints against animal abuse with one such article by The California Aggie stating, “As concern for the environment and animal suffering grows, so does the demand for vegan food options, and UC Davis is answering the call.” This is a misconception, especially in the realm of livestock, because abused animals do NOT produce saleable products. An abused, mistreated or lame animal will not consume feed at an efficient rate, which will in turn lead to poor fat coverage, poor marbling, less cooler life, less shelf life in the stores and a lower quality product that will not generally enter the food chain. (Marbling is intramuscular fat that adds to tenderness and flavor. Cooler life is the amount of time a carcass hangs in the cooler after harvesting to properly cool the core body temperature and harden the fat.)
The USDA enforces animal care and meat quality with an 11-step certification on all meat for class, quality or grade. The USDA also has requirements on pen size, animal per square foot and husbandry practices. In order to meet these demands, animals must be well raised and cared for to optimize product quality. The producer will not make income on a poorly cared for animal and thus has no desire to produce livestock in such a manner.
Secondly, Meatless Mondays promote soy products as more environmentally friendly and with a lower fat content than meat. However, supplementing soy for meat has some repercussions. For example, soybean lacks methionine and has lysine, but is not nearly as abundant as milk casein, a similar amino acid. Studies show that complete proteins with all nine essential amino acids as found in meat, poultry and some dairy products are essential in iron intake and are important for growing children, teenagers and premenopausal women.
Finally, the consumption of organics has been broadcast as the better alternative for people and animals alike. The USDA defines organic products as those that came from animals that have not been given antibiotics or growth hormones, and crops that have been grown without the use of pesticides, fertilizers with synthetic ingredients, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. While this may sound like the healthy, wholesome option for some, in actuality it results in decreases in crop yields and raises concerns for animal welfare. As consumers, people often run to the store for cough syrup when a cold emerges or to the doctor for large infections and willingly consume the necessary medications to improve their quality of health. The organic production thereby limits a producer to a decision between their source of income and the proper antibiotic treatments for their animals. In the dairy industry, especially, the use of antibiotics means that the cow cannot be milked in an organic dairy again. Consequently, the organic ideals may not be what are best for animal welfare because it limits animal care or shortens the productive life (the amount of time the animal is actually producing eggs, milk or offspring) if antibiotics are administered. This concern for contaminants in the food chain, which organics is meant to stop, is actually enforced by the USDA for all non-organic livestock as well. The USDA and all medicinal drugs require that animals must undergo a specified withdrawal period before they can be harvested and consumed, thereby keeping contaminants out of the food chain.
On a personal note, I agree with expanding and diversifying dining commons menus to better reach varied lifestyle choices in vegetarianism, veganism and even some religious menu options. Additionally, UC Davis has done well at creating a green and sustainable campus in areas including bike use, energy efficient building construction, waste reduction and recycling options, as well as fuel efficient buses. All of the terms and ideas being printed as the proper alternative should be re-evaluated and all voices should be heard so that our educated and developing campus can make their own informed decisions, and so we as a society can compromise to feed the ever-expanding population that continues to limit our land and water resources.