Grassfed Beef Destroys Florida Pine Forest

» June 25th, 2014

The more I read the rhetoric of grassfed beef peddlers the more I’m convinced that these guys are worse than global warming denialists. They go on and on about the theoretical ecological benefits of fattening cows on grass but fail to offer concrete examples of this endeavor’s systematic success.

They fail to discuss in any depth the impact of methane output, water consumption, overgrazing, land usage, and the ecological costs of slaughter and processing. They avoid the question of demand—how do you feed hundreds of millions of consumers this way? They never talk about what must be done to keep the grass growing (fertilizer) or the land/cattle ration in balance (calves shunted to the veal industry). They fail to discuss what kind of grasses they use (often fescue, which is non-native and harmful for cows) or how much alfalfa they import from drought-stricken California to get their beasts to slaughter weight when the grass dries up.

They simply show us pretty pictures of happy cows on green pastures, say a few words about welfare and sustainability, bash the factory farms, and charge a premium. Too often, ever hopeful that we can have our beef and eat it too, we pay it.

Look at what’s happening in north Florida right now, though, and you’ll begin to see that the dangers linked to the grassfed beef revival are real. The Gainesville Sun¬†reports¬†that billionaire Frank Stronach is planning to spend $60 million to clear-cut pine forests, convert them to pasture, stock them with cattle, and pump in 13 million gallons of water a day to bring the system to life. This move is supported by the American Grassfed Association, which, because it is a trade organization no different than the American Beef Council, is perfectly happy to mouth the conventional wisdom that grassfed beef restores ecosystems and improves soil health. Well, last I checked, native pine forests do that pretty well, too.

What you are seeing in Stronach’s bid to turn the Florida forest into a pasture of profit is merely a taste of what’s to come if the foodie frenzy for grassfed beef continues to rise. Sure, there will always be some friendly hippy farmer at the local market telling you that he does it right. And he might. But as demand spikes for this supposedly virtuous alternative to industrial beef, your local good guy is going to be swamped by the models established by fat cats who have no problem dropping 60 million to have a hobby farm, steal our water, and send animals to slaughter for food that clogs our arteries.

Like climate change deniers, grassfed beef advocates have started to believe their own bullshit. If north Floridians don’t deliver Stronach a dose of scientific reality, there’ll be a lot more of that to spread around soon enough.



8 Responses to Grassfed Beef Destroys Florida Pine Forest

  1. Marc Bedner says:

    As a New Mexico resident, I am well aware of the ecological damage of grazing arid lands in the West. Thank you for pointing out that eastern grasslands and forests are also at risk.

    I have noticed the local coops pushing grassfed beef, which I always refer to as public lands beef, though the situation in the East may differ. There was a time when the counterculture, for lack of a better word, had an awareness of ecological issues. Now it seems they’ve signed onto the grassfed beef fad, and are no longer concerned with the vast amount of public land devoted to grazing.

  2. scott says:

    They also fail to mention that “grass fed” means grain finished in CAFOs. Yes, they are fed grass–but only for a limited time before they are moved to CAFOs for grain fattening. You can feed cows one blade of grass in their lifetimes and still call them “grass fed.”

    People who buy stuff with this label are being highly deceived.

    • Mountain says:

      Did no one read the article to which James linked?

      Scott, what you’re describing– raising calves on grass until they are old enough to ship to CAFOs in the Midwest– is the conventional way of raising beef in Florida (and everywhere else in the U.S.). The article clearly states that this is a major change from that model. Grassfed cows and steers are not shipped to CAFOs to be fattened on grain; if they were, that would be called grain-finished. So, you’re working with faulty info.

      With any label, there is the risk of fraud. Just as some entrees labeled “vegan” have been shown to contain eggs or even fish, I’m sure some beef that has been labeled “grassfed” is actually grain-fed. But the label, if applied accurately, means the cow or steer was not sent to a CAFO.

  3. Mountain says:

    James, the article days Stronach is only requesting 2.4 million gallons per day. The initial request was for 13.2 million gallons per day, but that was three years.

  4. Mountain says:

    “They simply show us pretty pictures of happy cows on green pastures… and charge a premium.”

    This infograph shows that for every cattle that is slaughtered, 27.4 animals have been killed to feed it. So, grassfed beef, if nothing else, prevents those animals from being killed.

    According to the Humane Society, 30 to 35 million cattle are slaughtered every year to feed Americans. That’s about 550 million animals that wouldn’t be killed if meat-eating Americans ate grassfed beef instead of grain-fed beef. And yes, I think that’s worth a premium.

    Of course, meat-eating Americans could cause a lot less harm by giving up chicken, but that’s another story…

    • Tszeecous says:

      Also from the article you quoted and apropos:

      ” There are other possible sources of animal death associated with our diets, such as predators killed in defense of livestock, animals prevented from existing by the destruction of their habitat, …”

      And attempting to quantify suffering by number of animals killed seems ambitious and arrogant. By your logic if the calories supplied by 1*Elephant = {many}*cows, then killing 1*Elephant causes less suffering than killing {many}*cows. The true suffering is determined by whether you are the Elephant or the {many}*cows and is as invalid an exercise in mathematics and emotion as this purported postulate of quantifiable suffering:

      10*chihuahua*10lbs > 1*rottweiler*100lbs

      The article also includes this closing phrase to the sentence you implicitly reference regarding lessening the number of animals killed:

      “… but the most animal suffering and death can be prevented by following a vegan diet.”

  5. SkyHunter says:

    “Grassfed beef peddlers.” I see them in the comment sections of most diet/environment articles.

    I call them anti-vegan crusaders, since there rhetoric is often directed at attacking the idea that a vegan lifestyle is environmentally friendlier.

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