Vancouver is a city that cares deeply about the environment — whether that’s through hiking on our beautiful mountains, biking to work, or our passion for growing vegetables in our backyard. But as consumers, being conscious of the impact the things in our grocery basket have on the environment is more important now than ever.
The topic of what we eat to minimize climate change often comes up in this discussion with meat as a food that’s front and centre. So where does eating meat (and more specifically, beef) weigh into this debate? We asked Karli Reimer, a specialist in agriculture and conservation communications, to talk us through it all.
What she told us is that beef farming in Canada is more sustainable than you may think. So, we sat down to bust some beef myths once and for all.
One of the biggest misconceptions around beef is the amount of greenhouse gases that beef farming produces. “Canadian beef cattle contribute only 2.4% to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and only 0.04% globally. That is a drop in the bucket compared to other contributors — transportation in Canada contributes 28% of total emissions for example,” says Reimer.
Reimer has encountered some pretty crazy myths to do with raising beef and sustainability over the years. Another one of them is about cow farts (ahem) and how they contribute to climate change. “That is just not true,” she says, explaining that the methane levels produced aren’t enough collectively to contribute to impact the climate. “And just to set the record straight, it’s actually cow burps producing methane, not the other end of the story.”
Land use and crops
Another myth that misses the mark for Reimer is the idea that land used to raise cattle should be used to grow more crops or vegetables. “Not all land is created equal, and some land is just not good for growing crops, but it can be used for beef cattle to graze. So it’s a perfect use for these lands,” says Reimer.
She believes that raising beef in Canada can actually be good for our environment. “Removing cattle from the landscape would do more harm than good since the land use would change, leading to negative environmental consequences.”
The grass isn’t always greener
When we asked Reimer about beef farming practices in Canada, she emphasized the progress in sustainability that’s being made when it comes to raising beef. “Canadian beef farmers care for their animals using some of the best practices in the world. And having reduced water use and GHG emissions significantly over the last 30 years, they’re constantly striving to be better,” she says.
In Canada, our cattle are raised on grass — it’s part of their feed their entire lives. And with the natural prairie and pastures that have been around for centuries, clearing lands for grazing is not part of the practice here.
What’s so important about grass? “Grasslands are an important ecosystem that provides homes for a variety of creatures, including grazers like bison. Cattle make the grass and soil healthier through grazing,” says Reimer. In this sense, she explains that cattle and the environment “work well together” and that the land that cattle uses in Canada is extremely important to wildlife, biodiversity, and species at risk.
Food for thought
One of the things people often don’t realize about Canadian beef farming and sustainability is how much research goes on behind the scenes.
Reimer says that Canadian universities and research associations are constantly working to find ways to make “our food systems more efficient, using investigative studies to move agriculture forward, and adopting new practices based on that science that move efficiencies forward — improving care for cattle and the environment together.”
Another connection to beef farming and sustainability is how low waste it is. Meat isn’t the only gain. “The entire animal is used to produce something else — not just the meat we eat,” says Reimer. Whether it’s a leather belt, a candle, or a crayon, cattle provide an array of products so nothing is ever put to waste.
Reimer says a great way to be conscious of waste when it comes to beef is to be sure to purchase and appreciate a wide variety of cuts when you cook at home. “Beef is more than just tenderloin and ground beef. We need to broaden our scope of the types of cuts to use to make the best of beef. There are some amazing options to consider trying.”
Beef is nourishing
Ever heard the myth that beef isn’t good for you? It’s an easy myth to bust when you start to consider its nutritional value. Home Economist Joyce Parslow explains that beef is one of the most nutrient-dense high-quality protein foods, including vitamin B12, zinc, and iron. Parslow says that these nutrients are “essential to all Canadians and particularly for women and girls during child-bearing age, during pregnancy and lactation, and also for infants and toddlers.”
“Very few foods can match the nutrient density of beef,” says Parslow. One serving of beef has as much protein as three-quarters of a cup of almonds, and compared to chicken it has 200% more iron, 600% more vitamin B12, and 700% more zinc. So, with nutrient density as part of the sustainability conversation, beef provides much “food value” for a relatively small portion.
Canada’s wide-open spaces and cooler climate provide the ideal landscape for raising beef. Combined with its hardworking farmers and ranchers and a focus on ethical and sustainable farming, it’s one of the reasons Canada has such a word-class (or should we say “Grade A”) product. Find out more about Canada Beef by visiting their website today.