We know that meat production has an environmental impact. And not just meat production but everything we do. We can make more environmentally sustainable choices when buying locally produced meat in the Nordics.
Eating meat is ok within limits, as a part of a well-balanced diet. In this Meat Myths article series, we break myths related to meat production. This article focuses on myths around beef production* and its environmental impacts in the Nordics.
Myth 1: Beef production ruins the environment
In the Nordics we have good conditions for beef production. We have abundant water resources, overgrazing is no problem as our cattle herds are suitably sized for their field areas when grazing, forest areas are large, and no deforestation exists like in areas used for soy cultivation. By the way – in the Nordics soy is usually not a part of beef feed or it’s only used in low amounts. Roughage is better suited and keeps the cattle’s rumen in good condition. This is also an animal welfare question.
As mentioned above, there are plenty of fields where the soil is only suitable for grass cultivation. Grass with its roots keeps the nutrients, like phosphorous (P) and nitrogen (N) stay in the soil. When grass fields are not plowed, and plant cover can remain intact up to coming growing season, grass is efficient in nutrient binding. This phenomenon lowers eutrophication. Grass cultivation areas sequesters carbon*, like forests do. And manure makes the rest, it returns nutrients, which is good for the soil and coming harvests.
Cattle and grass are also a question of biodiversity and preserving it.
Myth 2: Methane from ruminants is a major threat to the climate
Methane is the second most abundant of the greenhouse gases. It contributes to climate change. Methane stays short time in the atmosphere, around 10 years, while CO2 stays for 100 years. Methane still matters though. But it is good to understand that although around 30 % of methane emissions come from ruminant, the rest, around 70 %, comes from other, manmade sources. E.g. rice cultivation takes approximately 10 % share from the 70 % manmade share of methane emissions. And around a 20 % share from the 70 % methane emissions comes from oil and gas use.
Livestock production has been studied to reduce emissions from ruminants. Factors found to reduce some of the emissions has been e.g. development of animal breeds and feeding. Maybe someday we have advanced technology to take methane out of the air e.g. directly in barns.
Myth 3: Fields should be used to grow protein directly for human consumption
There’s a huge amount of permanent grasslands and pastures areas in the world, also in the Nordics. The soil of those areas is not suitable for growing food for humans because of land’s features. For example cultivating plant proteins is not profitable because of low harvest levels. That’s why those places are perfect for raising cattle and for growing grass to feed them. Due to our Nordic location weather can also change our plans – corps cultivated for food production may not fulfill food quality requirements. In those cases, they are used for animal feed.
Even though humans cannot eat grass it is very nutritious for cattle. Cattle’s rumen turns grass into high-quality protein, which is important for human nutrition. Meat is rich in easily absorbable nutrients like good quality protein, iron and B-vitamins.
*Beef production = In this article beef production means both beef that is produced as a by-product from dairy production as cull cows and beef breeds raised especially for meat.
*Rumen = The rumen, also known as a paunch, forms the larger part of the reticulorumen, which is the first chamber in the alimentary canal of ruminant animals. It serves as the primary site for microbial fermentation of ingested feed.
*Carbon sink & carbon sequestration: A carbon sink is a natural or artificial reservoir that accumulates and stores some carbon-containing chemical compound for an indefinite period. The process by which carbon sinks remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere is known as carbon sequestration.