Got beef with beef? Look at it from an agricultural perspective

It seems today you can’t go a day without meeting someone who is vegetarian or vegan. That’s reflected by the fact that veganism in America has grown by 600% since just 2014. This shocking statistic isn’t incredibly surprising given some documentaries that have come out in recent years. And while you can cite some sustainability and health benefits of going meat-free, it’s important to take a look at all the areas your consumption of beef and other meat—or lack thereof—makes an impact.

Our family farm is one of the millions that have been tasked with harvesting enough to feed the world’s growing population. Beef is a huge contributor to this task, especially in the U.S. where meat is the largest segment of agriculture and where we produce more than 25 billion pounds of beef a year. Beef and other meat has filled a lot of stomachs, but it’s also made a big impact on the economy and financial stability of farmers. If you’ve been rethinking the way you consume beef, here are some pros and cons in some key areas to help you make educated and healthy decisions.

Beef provides economic stability

As mentioned earlier, the meat industry is the largest sector of American agriculture. In turn, it creates a plethora of jobs and opportunities for workers, whether those jobs are out in the pasture or in distribution. According to a 2012 USDA census agriculture report, of the 727,906 farms with beef cows, 85 percent had more than 50 percent of their sales come from beef cattle. From the distribution side, meat packing and processing industries employ almost 500,000 workers to make a combined salary of more than $19 billion. Through this, the financial impact of raising beef cattle is clear: it puts food on the table for both the people who consume it and the people who are financed by it.

Health, sustainability, and feeding the world

Many of you might not make a living off the production and consumption of beef, but you’re still impacted in a big way. Raising animals requires a large amount of land, food, water, and energy that could otherwise be used toward humans. Production and packaging also emits a large amount of greenhouse gases that is harmful to the environment. But true sustainability provides the best possible health for both humans and the environment. The amount of meat currently produced is arguably unsustainable for the estimated population growth, but to stop producing meat would reduce the amount of food available for many. Not everyone’s bodies are made to go meat free, and while fruits and vegetables provide many more nutrients meat lacks, some need the protein and nutrients meat provides.

The most sustainable solution?  Moderation.  You don’t have to stop eating meat.  Eating your meat in moderation will still provide food for many while continuing to support farmer’s production of meat in the most sustainable way. More of the non-meat calories currently produced can go back to humans and more land can go to a growing population, but we’ll also have that extra food group to feed people, along with fruits and vegetables.