Incorrect environmental information cause problems for livestock producersWritten by Saige Albert
“Every five years, Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture comes out with dietary guidelines,” said Gary Sides, a ruminant nutritionist with Zoetis, during a producer dinner on April 20. “In 2015, the original report said we shouldn’t eat any red meat at all because of dietary reasons, and the second reason was because raising cattle raises carbon dioxide, which causes global warming and destruction of the planet.”
And while the final dietary guidelines didn’t include any reference to climate change or global warming, Sides noted that the use of old, incorrect data is problematic for the beef industry.
The information alleging that cattle are major contributors to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions comes from a 10-year-old report from the United Nations.
“They said 18 percent of all global CO2 emission was due to cattle,” Sides said. “That data was five to six times off.”
The report has since been disproven by other scientists.
Sides spoke to producers during an April 20 presentation, sponsored by Superior Livestock and Zoetis, in Casper. Producers from around the region attended the event.
Sides noted that the United Nation report was based on a flawed computer simulation that did not reflect actual trends over the last decade.
“Software programs that predict what temperatures will be are based on rising CO2,” he explained. “We’ll go up one degree centigrade between 1975 and 2025, according to the models. The actual readings from the satellites show that we have not had global warming since 1998.”
With 19 years of no warming, CO2 levels have continued to increase, and Sides noted that the theories haven’t corresponded with observations.
With a focus on CO2, Sides asked, “In all this discussion about global warming, have we heard anyone mention what percentage of the atmosphere is made up of CO2? It’s 0.04 percent.”
He continued, “If we had heard that CO2 is causing the disruption of the planet, our BS meter would have gone off.”
At the same time, Sides commented that plants would starve without CO2, noting that the optimum level for plant growth is 1,500 parts per million. The current atmosphere is 400 parts per million.
While CO2 is a concern, despite its basis in science, Sides also noted that beef cattle are twice as efficient as wild ruminant.
“We produce half as much or less CO2 and methane,” he explained. “There were 80 million buffalo in the U.S. They weren’t worried about emissions back then, and we shouldn’t worry about it now. They haven’t gone up from what they were.”
Sides also noted that U.S. cattle production is more efficient than anywhere else in the world.
“Ranchers in the U.S. produce 25 percent of the world’s beef with 10 percent of the cattle,” he said. “We were green before it was cool. We improved gains, feed efficiency and carcass quality at the same time we reduced our carbon footprint.”
A grass system with feedlot finishing adds to the efficiency of the system.
“Combining grass and feedlots have produced the most efficient beef production system in the world,” Sides added.
Looking back to the past
Sides took a quick trip to the past, noting that if beef were produced today the same way it was in the 1950s, only half of the world’s population could be fed.
“Half of the world’s population would die without advances in agriculture technology,” he continued. “Worldwide, we’d need an additional 25 million square miles, which is the land mass of South America.”
“How are we going to feed a 10 billion?” Sides asked. “We’re going to have to double production from current acres. If not, our lifestyles are going to go way downhill, or people will starve.”
Sides also noted that in 1776, it took 19 farmers to feed 20 people. Today, one farmer or rancher feeds 155 others.
“People in cities don’t need to worry about where their food comes from,” he said.
And while people want agriculture to use the same technology as was used at the turn of the century, Sides said that those techniques resulted in environmental events like the Dust Bowl years.
A farmer in 1920 produced 20 bushels of corn per acre. Today, farmers produced an average of 170 bushels per acre.
“We can’t feed many cattle, chicken or pigs with 20-bushel corn, and we can’t make ethanol,” he commented.
“Agriculture in 1920 is not sustainable for today’s populations,” Sides emphasized. “The sky is the limit today because of modern agriculture and technology.”