by | Aug 9, 2017


A recent study found that if everyone in America switched from eating any form of beef and instead substituted beans that America would meet its 2020 greenhouse gas emission goals pledged in 2009.  Note that this still allows for consumption of all other types of meat and dairy.

How is this so? A few interesting livestock facts:

  • Producing meat is very inefficient from a resource and labor perspective.  Cows and other livestock eat plants – such as corn and beans.  These plants are grown, using water and fertilizer. Then the animals eat them.  Then we eat the animals. In other words, it’s more efficient to grow a crop and eat it than to grow a crop, feed it to an animal as it builds up muscle mass, then eat the animal.
  • According to the United Nations, 33 percent of arable land on Earth is used to grow feed for livestock. 26 percent of the ice-free terrestrial surface of Earth is used for grazing livestock. So, about a third of land on earth is used to produce meat.
  • If Americans traded beef for beans it would free up 42 percent of crop land.
  • The  livestock sector contributes 14.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A major way livestock creates GHG is via methane produced during digestion by ruminant animals (I.e. Cow belching and flatulence).


  1. Super interesting dialogue. Excellent points and perspectives on a controversial topic that has gained attention and awareness in recent years. Right up my alley- I love this conversation. John- your IFOD sounds akin to the documentary, “cowspiracy”, and another new documentary out on Netflix, “what the health”- I haven’t seen this one, but heard it is anti- dairy and anti- diabetes association. Doug- I don’t know you, but appreciate your perspective and comments as a farmer/rancher and insight about the farm bill. Sounds like you are from KC? KC has an amazing food alliance/coalition actively working on improving community level wellness and preventing childhood obesity. I’m a big fan of KC healthy kids, STL does not have such a coordinated effort.

    As a dietitian and prof in nutrition, I’ve tried to encourage my students to think deeply and crtitcally about the entire food system, and the layers of complexity involved when addressing food and nutrition, including such topics as the role of govt in food production, and the impact of food on health. I spend a lot of time presenting complex thoughtful ideas and then encourage the students to have the type of conversation you and John just had with this IFOD. Nothing about food or nutrition is simple–which frustrates many people.

  2. John I would like you consider a few points about allocation of land used in production agriculture.

    We have essentially maxed out the acquisition of land for tillable acreage. The vast majority of land used for grazing is not suitable for crop production. Our federal government is making it difficult to impossible to increase tillable acres. The last Farm Bill has a “sod busting” provision, preventing farmers in many states from converting pasture land into tillable acreage.

    While the majority of pasture use is for meat production significant acres of pasture land is used for milk and fiber production. Their are many other uses of livestock including many important medical uses.

    I feel consumption of red meat is an important component of balance dietary plans. Premenopausal females often cannot meet iron requirements with having red meat in their diets. Many men incur hormonal and metabolic abnormalities when plants provide their only protein source. A recent article in the cardiology literature demonstrated a favorable response to LDL levels when lean beef is added to a diet. Another recent article showed that consuming the appropriate amount of certain nuts showed better effect on cholesterol levels then taking statins. Balanced approach wins the day.

    As a forth generation Farm/ranch family I will concede that the continuing the current agricultural production methods is not sustainable, both on environmental and production need basis. As a world food production community we need to increase the tillable acres by 35-40% over the next 25 years. This roughly the size of Brazil. Where does the land come form? We are actually losing tillable acres worldwide currently with the loss of farmland in sub-Sahara Africa. One interesting proposal is the use of urban indoor farming methods. This is well covered in the book “The Vertical Farm” by Despommier. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in this issue.

    Anyone interested in discussing this further please feel free to contact me. I will buy dinner. I entertain at both the best steak and vegan restaurants that Kansas City has to offer.


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