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How do cattle affect the environment?

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2014-09-23 22:45:49
2014-09-23 22:45:49

The answer to this question is one that requires a lot of intellectual and technical thinking, and one that does not provide a straight answer. It is only possible to provide a certain amount of information and arguments in order to help the reader to make their own assumptions and conclusions as to what the answer to this question could possibly be. There is no right nor wrong answer. However, a warning: an answer is most certainly wrong if information and facts are misinterpreted and misleading, as have been shown and explained below.

Livestock's Long Shadow Study InterpretedThere was a study done on the environmental impacts of livestock in air, earth and water by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization)/UN that many people have read and have been quoting time after time to defend their arguments that cows contribute to global warming. This study is in the form of a book called Livestock's Long Shadow, and though it does have many insights and pointers, there are many different things that the FAO has missed and other people have misinterpreted in reading this book.

For one, those folks that argue cows are the biggest contributors in global warming and use the 18% livestock-environmental-contribution number have not stepped back and taken a really good look at what the table in Chapter 3 of pg. 113 of Livestock's Long Shadow is really saying. According to that table, there are numbers that include the LULUCF factor (Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry) and those that do not. I think we should be more concerned about the numbers that do NOT include the LULUCF factor to get a true value of how much livestock contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. For the values and calculations below, I only focus on the carbon-equivalent calculations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, not the percentages obtained from total methane or total nitrous oxide: those will be covered later. Values obtained below come from the LLS link posted below.

From the table, Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are the following:

Total CO2 from Livestock Activities w/ LULUCF* = 2.7 billion tonnes

Total CO2 from Livestock Activities w/o LULUCF = 0.16 billion tonnes

Total CO2 from Anthropogenic Emissions w/ LULUCF = ~31 billion tonnes

Total CO2 from Anthropogenic Emissions w/o LULUCF = 24 billion tonnes

Take Total CO2 from Livestock Activities w/o LULUCF and divide that by the Grand Total Anthropogenic Emissions including LULUCF and you get the following: 0.16/40 = 0.004 =0.4%contribution to CO2 emissions.

Methane (CH4) emissions are the following:

Total CH4 from Anthropogenic Emissions w/o LULUCF = 5.9 billion tonnes

Total CH4 from Livestock Activities w/o LULUCF = 2.2 billion tonnes

Take Total CH4 from Livestock Activities w/o LULUCF and divide that by the Grand Total Anthropogenic Emissions w/ LULUCF and you get the following: 2.2/40 = 0.055 = 0.055 = 5.5%contribution to methane emissions.

According to the chart, you get the same percentage for N2O (Nitrous oxide) as you do for methane by still not including the LULUCF Factor. Now take a look at the totals below:

GRAND TOTAL Anthropogenic Emissions w/ LULUCF = 40 billion tonnes

TOTAL Anthropogenic Emissions w/o LULUCF = 31 billion tonnes

TOTAL Livestock Emissions w/ LULUCF = 7.1 billion tonnes

TOTAL Livestock Emissions w/o LULUCF = 4.6 billion tonnes

If you do the math, to get 18% you have to take the Total Livestock Emissions with LULUCF and divide that by the Grand Total like this: 7.1/40 = 0.1775 = 0.1775 = 17.75%

Now, to get the percentage of total livestock emissions without LULUCF, you divide Total Livestock Emissions w/0 LULUCF with the Grand Total and get the following: 4.6/40 = 0.115 = 11.5%.

This goes to show you that livestock (i.e., cows) contribute to only a tenth (1/10 = 10%) of total greenhouse gas emissions, not a fifth (1/5 = 20%). That one-fifth calculation was actually a miscalculation that the FAO admitted to a year or two after publication of the book. However, it was too late because many, if not all, of the extremist environmentalist and animal rights groups jumped on that one-fifth figure and used it as one of their many daggers jabbed into the animal agriculture industry to "prove" to everyone just how "harmful" the livestock industry really is. They have been the ones that have lead everyone to believe that that one-fifth is truth, when in fact it is nothing but yet another lie--a half-truth--generated by these very groups. It should come to no surprise since these groups are known for stretching the truth--and the statistics that come along with it--to breaking point.

According to the calculations above, livestock only contribute to 0.6% of all carbon dioxide emissions without LULUCF factor, and only 8.7% of CO2 emissions with the LULUCF factor. That's not worth shaking a stick at by any standards. The quote about livestock's CO2 emissions being higher than transport is BS--they only mention that a tiny share of transport is "...mainly attributed to intensive systems...", not any other livestock system that is being used in the world!

Methane production, as we can see above, contributes to only 5.5% of the absolute total greenhouse gas production. Not much to shake a stick at, right? I don't look at the total GHG emissions excluding the LULUCF factor because that is neither the grand total nor relevant to the issue at hand. But, what I want to look at is total methane emissions, something which I failed (on purpose) to cover in my calculations above. We can easily calculate that 2.2 billion tonnes of methane produced from livestock excluding LULUCF divided by the 5.9 billion tonnes from total anthropogenic methane emissions gives us a whopping 37%. No doubt that is a concern, for all sectors of the livestock industry, and something that gives the anti-animal ag people a lot of power to use for their "cause." No doubt that's a significant slice of the pie, but what about the other part of the pie? That 63% that's left over? That should be of greater concern than the smaller portion of the pie that gets handed to the livestock industry.

Let's have a look at what the FAO came up with in their estimations in emissions for methane emissions in the three main livestock production systems: Grazing, Mixed, and Industrial. Two different tables exist, being enteric fermentation (Table 3.7 on p. 97) and manure management (Table 3.8 on p. 99). Though we are concerned with methane emissions from the livestock industry as a whole, it is best to concern ourselves with the numbers obtained for cattle instead. Of the global total for methane emissions (being 85.63 million tonnes per year) through enteric fermentation, cattle make up 31.1 percent of emissions in the grazing sector, 44.5 percent in the mixed production sector, and 0.8 percent in the industrial production sector. Methane from manure from cattle accounts for 3.7 percent, 35.3 percent, and 0.1 percent respectively.

However, the numbers obtained above are questionable because of the huge variations existing between regions, farms, and individual animals. One can go out on a limb and say that the numbers the FAO obtained above are almost intangible and inaccurate, to say the least.Feed quality and quantity consumed, energy content, animal body weight, age, breed, type, level of exercise, feed efficiency, and many other factors have a heavy influence on methane production. Not only is there difference between species and breeds, but also between individual animals. Differences in climate, region, environment and management also plays a role in variation of methane production. The authors of Livestock's Long Shadow further state that: "...assessing methane emissions from enteric fermentation in any particular country requires a detailed description of the livestock population (species, age and productivity categories), combined with information on the daily feed intake and the feed's methane conversion rate."

Nitrous oxide, no doubt, is of great concern. Even though it is the least noted of the greenhouse gases, it is the most potent of the big three. Out of the total nitrous oxide emissions from all level of anthropogenic and livestock activities, livestock contribute to a disturbing 65 percent of all nitrous oxide emissions. However, out of total carbon-equivalent emissions encompassing all greenhouse gas emissions, N2O only accounts for 5.5 percent of total GHG emissions. Table 3.11 of page 110 has the nitrous oxide emissions from different regions and livestock production systems. Of the total from all livestock production systems (which is 3.69 million tonnes per annum), the mixed system makes up the greatest in N2O contributions, contributing to 68 percent of all nitrous oxide emissions of all systems. Pasture-based systems account for only 24.4 percent of nitrous oxide emissions. However, these numbers alone are for all livestock, including buffalo, hogs, poultry, sheep and goats. We are only interested in cattle for this particular question.

With that said, total annual nitrous oxide emissions from dairy and "other" cattle classified in LLS from mixed systems is 1.32 million tonnes. Pasture totals are 0.65 million tonnes for all cattle. This means that cattle contribute to 35.7 percent and 17.6 percent of all nitrous oxide emissions of all livestock from either production systems, respectively. (It may be surprising to see that cattle contribute to a scant 2 percent of nitrous oxide emissions in industrial production systems.)

What does the FAO qualify as "mixed livestock production systems"? Mixed production systems directly refer to both crop and livestock farming under one business entity, not a mix of grazing and intensive feeding systems. When you have a mixed farm, crops grown can be grown for livestock or for the cash-crop market (i.e., for human consumption), or a mix of both. No doubt the numbers do not lie in that they clearly show us that a system that involves both the raising of livestock and the use and feeding of crops to raise such animals is indeed bad for the environment, but one must remember these are global numbers, not localized numbers for a particular region, such as North America or Western Europe. Numbers differ readily across various regions, as mentioned above with the case of methane emissions, thus what is a concern globally may or may not be of great concern for a particular area, especially if one takes into account the environment, crops raised for cash or feed, location, and which animals are being raised.

Manure management and crop production are of greatest concern as voiced by the FAO in LLS, as well as poor grazing management in many developing countries. Though they recommend better nutritional management and conservation efforts to prevent overgrazing of grasslands, it is odd that they recommend avoiding late fall and winter grazing, based on the numbers obtained for nitrous oxide emissions, as they say it may avoid, "excessive losses from manure..." It seems from the report that they do not quite see the benefits of added manure to a pasture system even from winter and late grazing. Nor do they mention the carbon nor biomass value of the manure that is deposited on the pasture by grazing animals. The only concern they have with manure is storage and best use of accumulated manure from mixed production systems.

(New research, as of May 2013, done by the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Lethbridge Research Centre Onefour Ranch at Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada has uncovered that 84% of methane emissions from cattle are associated with grazing cows. This is from measuring enteric methane production as a result of cows being raised on grasses with low digestibility, which subsequently presents a greater need for more fermentation to occur. However more research is being done on whether beef cattle grazing mixed grasses are a net sink or source of carbon-based greenhouse gases. New methods of measuring methane production from grazing animals are also being tested.)

The FAO's Livestock Long Shadow did not just cover the impacts livestock had on climate change and air pollution, they also covered concerns with water and biodiversity. However, most talks between groups when the subject of "environment" and "livestock" come up in the same sentence moves directly to discussions on climate change, so it is best to leave the information as posted above to that. However, common arguments between those who are for the raising of cattle and those against cover such concerns below.

Common Arguments Between For- and Against-Cattle:The more common arguments/discussions that people have tossed back and forth over whether cattle are good (For) or bad (Against) for the environment have been mentioned over and over again across the world of cyberspace, and are covered here. Much talks pertain to biodiversity, land use, and water use, as well as level of efficiency for land, feed and water, as follows:

Against: Cattle are the largest contributors to deforestation.

For: This highly ambiguous statement no doubt is often usually in direct reference to the destruction of the Amazonian rainforests of South America. The truth is that cattle ranching is not the only thing to hold blame for the deforestation efforts in South America, but also the push for soybean production, which, according to the FAO, ties closely with use as livestock feed (primarily for hogs and poultry). But to say that cattle themselves alone are the "largest contributors to deforestation" is a misnomer and a half-truth. The driving force behind deforestation is always the human and economic factor in efforts for South American producers to expand pastures. It is cheaper to buy land that has recently been deforested than take over land that has been used previously as for crop or pasture. Various producers also are still uneducated about better grazing management options to reduce the amount of pasture land needed to be obtained from deforested areas and reduce overgrazing, however many more are becoming more aware of the pressures from the public within and outside of the continent and striving to make an effort to increase pasture productivity and beef up (pun intended) on better grazing management practices.

Claims that U.S. forest land converted to grazing/farm lands have been spurred on by cattle are misleading. Between 1900 and 1980, the number of U.S. forest lands converted to other uses was 64 million acres; in fact, forest land decreased by only 9 percent. Millions of forest lands are reforested every year, which means that timber is a resource that is being conserved, not used up. Much more important and significant have been the conversion of woodland and FARMLAND into urban development.

Additionally, not all deforestation by cattle is bad. Areas where there is seen an increased encroachment of woody plant species in North America onto native range sites where woody plants once were nonexistent are being monitored and targeted by using cattle (as well as fire) as disturbances to push back these woody plants and turn the native areas back to prime grassland habitat.

Against: According to scientists at Cornell University, more than half the grain grown in the US is being fed to cattle. If that grain was given directly to people it would feed over 800 million people, or if exported, would boost the US trade balance by over $80 billion.

For: Case in point: Why don't we stop producing at least three quarters of the grain (i.e., corn) that's already being produced and convert the land that has been used for grain (i.e., corn) into grassland for livestock?

The fact that "more than half of the grain grown in the US is being fed to cattle," puts into mind the same statistics used across the web, except that the word "cattle" often gets interchanged with "livestock." Telling me that "more than half" of the grain produced in the United States is fed to cattle, tells me that something is missing here: What about all the other animals that are fed grain commonly, if not more often than cattle, such as hogs, poultry, and feeder lambs, especially the first two? Hogs and poultry make up a huge percentage of livestock raised in mixed farm and/or confined animal feeding operations, and see more grain (in the form of corn, soybean or wheat, commonly grown in the USA) being fed to them than cattle either finished in the feedlot or raised in dairy operations. Livestock does not automatically equate to cattle, though many people believe otherwise.

Quite frankly, the fact that *livestock* are fed "more than half" of the grain grown in the U.S. of A is unfounded. Sources have stated otherwise. An opinion piece from the New York Times (see related link below) stated that over one third (~33%) of the corn crop goes to feeding livestock. Thirteen percent is exported, and another 40 percent is used for ethanol. Other sources claim that 46 percent of corn grown is used for feed and 40 percent for ethanol. However it's put it, you do the math.

The fact that the hypothetical "If, then" arguments about feeding *grain* (i.e., corn, which makes up 93.5% of the American crop production sector) to people and "cutting out the middle man" attempts to persuade the reader into thinking that people could make more use of corn instead of livestock fails to acknowledge several faults presented in this argument: use of the entire corn plant by humans only versus cattle, corn as poor nutritional source for humans and cattle, overuse and abundance, trade barriers and tariffs, and the environmental issues with growing corn as both a feed and a foodstuff.

1) Use of the entire "grain" plant by humans only in comparison with cattle: If the scenario theorized by the Against side above were true, much of the corn plant would be wasted and thrown away. One could easily argue that it would be used as compost, but the nutrient content of a mature corn plant is equivalent to straw: all fibrous tissue and little else. Ninety-percent of the nutrient value of the corn plant is found in the seeds, the caryopsis, the "grains" of the corn plant. Of the entire plant, roots, stems, leaves, husks and cobs, the seeds only comprise a measly < 2 percent of the entire plant. (This goes for all other plants grown in monoculture annual cropping systems). Humans that eat the grains of the corn plant do not consume the grains right when the plant is at its full stage of maturity, but rather well before when the cobs are out, but the seeds are in what is known as the "milk stage." That is when the seeds are the most succulent and most palatable to our tastebuds. But that is all we eat: the rest of the plant is waste. Even when corn has been harvested at maturity and used for ethanol production, the by-product left over is as unpalatable to us as a small branch on an oak tree would be. But not to cattle.

Often the entire corn plant is used for feed (well, not the entire plant: there is still root biomass left in the ground and the bottom 6 inches of corn stubble left from harvest that is left after harvest) in the form of silage. The by-product from ethanol production, called Dried Distiller's Grains or DDG, is often fed to cattle as concentrate to be included in their rations. The stems and leaves add necessary fibre and cellulose to their diets and help optimize chewing time and digestibility.

When we look at corn grain harvested from mature corn plants, cattle are better utilizers and digesters of such grain than we humans could ever hope to be. Unlike with our much larger ruminant counterparts, we need to mill, grind and overall process these same grains, then incorporate them with other ingredients into food products in order to deem them edible. Once again, we find ourselves wasting part of the corn seed in order to get the food item we want from that one raw, unprocessed corn kernel. Don't kid yourself that grain doesn't need to go through much processing in order for you to eat it: It still does and always will, no matter how you try to look at it.

2) Corn as a poor nutritional source for humans and cattle: Corn, as a grain, is 90% starch. Starch = carbohydrate = energy. Energy gets converted into useable sugars which, if not used up by the body, gets converted and stored as fat. Too much carbohydrate in the diet can and will make people fat. Grains are a poor source of protein (meat, obviously, is not), and are really unnecessary for the human diet because of that significant carbohydrate nutrient value. Corn is the worst of the grains for energy; suggesting that more corn can be fed to the human population is like setting and starting a ticking time-bomb: as if the obesity epidemic in the United States isn't bad enough, and now the Against side wants to fatten more people up with corn? As mentioned previously, why not grow corn barely at all?

Corn is also a poor nutritional source for cattle also because of the energy content. It will also cause problems at the metabolic level if not introduced properly. However, it is highly useful as a energy source if a diet or ration currently fed to livestock is energy-poor and can be used as a supplement when necessary.

3) Overuse and overabundance: Growing corn has become a lucrative source of income for producers, and as a result is pushing producers to go cropping and give up raising livestock. Cash receipts for growing crops has increased the last few decades both in Canada and the USA, surpassing that of raising cattle, and as a result has seen an insurge of grain into the market. Government subsidies for growing corn has pushed market prices up and relieved the true costs to make it a *cheap* feed to be sold to livestock. People can't and won't eat nor use the amount of corn that is being used today, certainly not of livestock were taken out of the equation. Historically, too much grain was produced and there was too much for people to consume. The best solution was to feed it to livestock. Cattle eat ten times more than a human does (which is part of the reason why so much more grain is grown for livestock than people), and fatten up well on it, so it was seen as a useful option to decrease time to fatten cattle for slaughter and increase feed efficiency.

However, on an environmental scale, growing corn has cost us our rangelands and wildlife habitats, increased water intakes for irrigation from the Ogallala Aquifer, and increased agriculture's overall carbon footprint.

4) Trade barriers, tariffs and uneven distribution of imported food: If grain would be given directly to people, it could not be easily exported. Not everyone wants the grain grown in the USA, certainly not the GMO crap that is owned and patented by Monsanto. Third-world countries wouldn't be so eager to evenly distribute such generous imports to all its residents, hogging it all for the rich and hiking up prices so high that the poorest of the poor couldn't even afford a quarter of a pound of US-grown corn. Finally, feeding grain is certainly the least effective way of addressing poverty and famine issues in the most poorest parts of the world--even here at home. It is wiser to keep the grain at home and educate people to learn to farm and raise livestock for themselves instead of relying on welfare hand-outs from other distant countries. Support Heifer International, in other words.

5) Environmental issues with growing corn as both a feed and a foodstuff: The more that producers want to grow corn because of the high market costs, the more rangelands and wildlife habitats are destroyed, displacing millions of wildlife and killing many more. Don't be fooled when you hear someone claiming that they see more wildlife in a crop of corn or wheat than in a natural grassland or pasture. These animals have been displaced and have learned that these crops are great sources of food, providing a short-term benefit to them, but a long-term cost overall. This is because they are in direct competition with us humans: we want that crop as a food source, and they are eating our food. They also face poisoning from pesticides applied to the crops, and death at the merciless action of the machinery used to spray, harvest and till these crops.

Water gets contaminated with the use of these pesticides. More water needs to be used for the production of these crops, which means that water must come from water bodies at the surface and below ground. There are concerns that the Ogallala Aquifer will dry up in the next few decades because of the extensive use for irrigation to use on--yep--corn.

Not only are a lot of fossil fuels being used to raise corn, but more erosion and carbon release is seen than with native rangelands--including forested areas--or perennial pastures or hay fields. Even with "conservation tillage," perennial grasslands still sequester ten times more carbon than tillage fields that are see no tillage. It is ironic that a carbon incentive is being paid to farmers that practice no-till, yet nothing is done to praise producers for raising livestock on grasslands that have not seen a plow in over 10 to 50 years or more.

Overall, the plan to give people grain instead of livestock would never work. It would be more environmentally destructive and impractical than reducing the amount of grain fed to livestock, increasing grazing activities and rejuvenating grasslands almost to their former glory.

Against: Let's talk about trophic levels. At each level, substantial amounts of energy are lost (almost 90% per level) and, as cattle are not producers and often not even primary consumers (unless grass fed) the amount of energy gained per unit is drastically reduced by the time humans eat the beef. VERY inefficient food production.

For: It is completely natural for there to be an energy loss of 90 percent in an ecological trophic or energy level. It happens in nature all the time, so there shouldn't be any concern with it happening in the food production world involving animal agriculture.

Cattle are more often primary consumers than what it appears to most people, especially the Against side in this case (and of course cattle are not producers, plants are the producers, not the animals that eat those plants). Claiming that cattle are "often not even primary consumers (unless grass fed)" ignores the fact that humans do not, in anyway, consume the feed or fodder that is then fed to cattle. Humans are just doing the work of collecting feed so that they can feed these animals. In the context of feeding animal by-product to cattle, that is illegal in most countries and still has no merit in adding plausibility to the claim that cattle are often not primary consumers "unless grass-fed." What is also not acknowledged (and which has been mentioned before) is that cattle that reach the feedlot, for instance, have seen life on pasture for at least 12 to 14 months before spending the last 3 to 4 months on a high-concentrate diet.

Besides, beginning a talk with mentioning trophic levels then switching to ecological energy efficiency is like beginning a talk with a mention of baseball then switching to criticisms about the game of softball. Similar, yes, but not the same thing.

Against: Scientists have calculated energy-conversion efficiencies for each species of livestock. Such efficiencies have direct ramifications for land-use with cattle requiring over 20 kg of feed input per 1 kg of edible weight. Compare that to broilers (2.8 kg to 1 kg of edible weight), eggs (4.5 kg to 1 kg of edible weight) and milk (1.1 kg to 1 kg). The land required to produce 1 kg of protein from beef is over 245 m2 whereas eggs only use 22 m2 per 1 kg protein and broilers 14 m2 per 1 kg protein.

For: It is obvious from the statements above that the concept of land-use in relation to efficiency of how much feed goes into the production of a product--beef, poultry meat, eggs and dairy, in this instant--is lacking in fundamental understanding. It is assuming, and therefore "proving" that the production of beef is "inefficient" than the production of broiler meat, eggs or dairy. In reality, it is really comparing apples to bananas to oranges to papyas. To be blunt, the information stated by the Against side is very misleading. Yes, scientists may have calculated such information, but a huge chunk of other information is missing--conveniently for those who say that cows have a "bad" effect on the environment.

What is also obvious is that such numbers are taken from the intensive production of livestock for meat, milk and eggs (surprise, surprise). As such, the numbers above are only associated with the land that is used to feed livestock, not to graze them. When you look at the numbers, you have to realize that the overall live-weight of a broiler is much smaller than the live-weight of a finished 18-month old steer. This is not only because a steer is much, much bigger than a broiler chicken (which means that a steer would eat far more grain), but it has more "waste" than a broiler does due to heavier and larger bone mass and at least 10 times as much visceral mass that needs to be removed prior to being prepared for consumption. All commercial broilers today are genetically altered (through artificial selection) to grow greater muscle mass than they naturally would have when mature; and broilers are slaughtered well before maturity. Broilers have a lesser bone-to-muscle ratio than beef cattle do because of these genetic advances. As a result, these birds require far less grain to grow than cattle need.

Then we are comparing apples to oranges when we compare egg production and milk production to meat production. It's very obvious that milk and egg production is far more efficient because hardly anything is being taken away: both products are pretty much being fed to the product as-is, unlike with meat.

As far as land use is concerned, what was mentioned above also applies. Note too that such claims for land-use are approximate: no farm or region is the same as far as how much land is needed to produce a pound or kilogram of meat, milk or eggs. Feed that is fed, fertilizer used, soil quality, crop yields, size of the animal, quality of the feed, and other animal and dietary factors will come into play to change the numbers above from *actual* values to truely approximate estimates that may be stretching the truth just a wee bit.

Against: From 440 to over 1,000 gallons of water are required to produce (are you ready?) only 1 kg of protein from beef! The amount of water used to produce 1 kg of protein in chickens is 50 kg and eggs require only 15 kg per 1 kg of protein.

For: It's barely even worth countering this part of the debate due to the highly erroneous and rooky calculation misinterpretation attempts that are all too obvious here. Not to seem nit-picky, but when you are trying to dispute facts and flaunt your colours with statistics, make sure you are using the right values. You absolutely DO NOT put an imperical value to a metric value and call it fact. It is also wrong to put water in the context of weight or mass instead of volume. Water must be measured in terms of volume only, because it is a liquid, not a solid.

As a result, the numbers above are highly, highly flawed. According to Hoekstra (2012), the correct nutrient water footprint value for beef is 112 L per gram of protein in beef. In the imperical sense, that is 838 gallons per ounce of protein in beef. For chicken meat, it is 34 L/g of protein and 29 L/g of protein for eggs. (As you've already read above, comparing water footprint values of broilers and layers to that of beef is like comparing apples to oranges. Concepts, concepts, concepts! Cattle are bigger than chckens therefore need more feed and water. Case in point.)

If you want to see water values in terms of per pound of beef produced (like PETA did when they announced that it takes 2400 gallons of water to produce 1 lb of meat [how ambiguous of them!], seen in the related link below), Hoekstra pulled up some interesting values: Total water footprint per kilogram of beef is 15,415 L of water (PeTA's value converts to 20,029 L/kg of meat, which is quite a bit off: Hoekstra's water footprint total for meat [pork, chicken, caprine/mutton and beef] add up to 34,491L/kg. So, go figure.). Now here's where it get's interesting: 93.5 percent of that total water footprint value is of what is called "green" water, which is water that comes in the form of rain. Only 3.5 percent is blue water (from surface and ground water), and 2.9 is grey (polluted water). Point being: Rain is reusable and renewable resource, since it is a vital part of the water cycle of the Earth's atmosphere. This means that there, quite honestly, is nothing to be concerned about in terms of water foot print of meat or beef.

Against: Another very interesting fact is that one (1) cow can produce over 20,000 kg of waste in a single year and poor containment practices in states such as North Carolina and Maryland have been linked to outbreaks of Pfiesteria and other diseases.

Feedlot CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) are basically huge warehouses for extremely dense populations of animals that often require heavy doses of antibiotics that are given to the animals to control diseases. These chemicals can be transferred up the food chain and their constant use can cause microbes to evolve resistance to them as well.

For: The numbers for manure production is way off, since the per body weight is not mentioned. Pigs outdo cows by 4 tons (4000 kg) per year in manure production. Dairy cows outdo beef cattle by 3.5 tons per year. Beef cattle produce 8.5 tons (8500 kg) per year; Dairy cattle produce 12 tons (12000 kg) per year, and hogs produce 16 tons (16000 kg) of manure per year. And those numbers are per 1000 lb (454 kg) of body weight.

As for poor containment practices are mostly for those few feedlots that have poor manure management, not for the majority of feedlots that make it a business to have proper and good manure management. Mentioning those two states in your defense is like pitting a team of peewee hockey players against a veteran NHL team like the LA Kings.

Feedlots are nothing like "warehouses." If you want to see a CAFO "warehouse," look at dairy, hog and poultry operations. Feedlots are primarily outdoor confinement dirt lots, not housed in barns. Case in point: cattle that enter the feedlot have already been on pasture for over a year and a half, and thus are only in the feedlot for a short period of time: 3 to 4 months out of their lives.

As far as antibiotics is concerned, none are used to "control diseases." The few that are used at sub-therapeutic levels are used to prevent illnesses from occuring (such as pneumonia, footrot, BVD [bovine diarrhea] and liver abscesses), and still others are used as a means to increase feed efficiency and minimize acidosis. Such aforementioned "antibiotics" are called ionophores. The fact that these "chemicals" can be transferred up the food chain and cause microbes to develop resistance to them is possible, but unlikely. You are much likely to get antibiotic resistance with deliberate overuse, misuse and abuse of various prescription medications and drugs by humans (including flushing pills down the toilet instead of properly disposing them, or getting involved in substance abuse to get a "high") than you are with controlled levels of medication given to food animals. For the record, the reason that 80% of all antibiotics are used in food animals is because they are much, much bigger than we are, and therefore need larger doses than we do. Think about it.

Against: With not destroying stream banks as they are said to "cross streams in a line," ask yourself when the last time it was that you saw cattle behaving in such a manner. They are almost always spread out, eating at will and not following lockstep down embankments unless there is no other manner in which to cross. Just come to public lands in the West and see for yourself.

For: This is mostly due to improper riparian and stream-bank management and producers--even public land managers like the BLM--not making the effort to fence off streams and riparian zones from the cattle and offer an alternate off-site water source. You will get this spread out behaviour with stream banks that have been worn down excessively over time and if no other water source is supplied for these cattle other than that offered by the flowing stream or creek (or pond or river). Cattle will cross in a line if they are travelling from one pasture to another and do not come back to this stream repeatedly, like they would if they were set to graze that area in which the stream runs.

However, one must not judge everything based on one particular moment or location that they observed. Just because someone from the Against side seen such damage done to stream banks doesn't mean it's the same all over. No doubt, adequate management must be done to ensure stream banks and riparian areas are healthy in order to ensure future water quality for the coming generations.

Against: Cattle and bison graze/browse in different manners than the bison (i.e. true bison - not bison/cattle hybrids) with bison changing locations far more frequently and eating grasses differently than cattle thereby causing less environmental damage.

For: A lack of understanding of fundamentals and natural ecology is, once again, quite apparent here. Cattle and bison do not "graze/browse in different manners" than each other--assuming that's what you were trying to say--because fundamentally and physiologically they are the same. Bison and cattle may look different, but they are still the same when it comes to being ruminant animals: Both are coarse or roughage grazers (bison do not browse like elk, deer, pronghorn, and goats do), both have three forechambers to their stomach in addition to the true stomach, both use their tongue and bottom incisors to eat grass (neither have top incisors), both are very large land animals (the bison being the largest native land mammal of North America), and both are prey animals. Bison are just as apt to get lazy and overgraze an area as cattle are. The only reason they "change locations far more frequently" is because their movements are forced by predators--wolves, bears, coyotes, and cougars. They do not move by themselves. They never have moved by themselves, even when they were numbering in the several millions before their massacre in the mid- to late-1800's.

Cattle are moved by the same token, except that humans act as the predator, just like the wolves do to the bison. Humans also use additional tools to facilitate the movements of cattle: fences, strategic location of watering facilities and mineral sources, and a learned knowledge of bovine movement, psychology and behaviour.

The only difference between bison and cattle is that bison love to run, then stop, then run again. Cattle would much rather walk, take a bite, then keep walking to the next plant and so on. So, both can cause just as much and as least environmental damage as the other.

Against: If the government has designated land as unsuitable for agriculture, why would we then put cattle on said land to degrade it further possibly leading to desertification - a major problem with cattle grazing in the arid West?

For: The government designated said land as unsuitable for agriculture only because it is non-arable, or cannot be used for crop production because it has rocky soils, steep terrain, or a very shallow lithic soil layer that is undesirable for growing crops on. Such land is suitable for grazing cattle on because cattle can make better use of the land than a crop farmer can.

The purpose of designating non-arable land as public grazing lands is nor was ever to degrade it further leading to desertification, but to have it so that the ranchers in the area could use it to graze their cattle on for a short time before pulling them off. Forages that exist in such lands are better used by cattle than the other wild animals that exist in those lands, one because the buffalo are not around to graze such fodder down like they could in the past, and two such plants would have overgrown or pushed out other plants that certain wild animals rely on for nesting and feeding sites.

While overgrazing--a term that we must tread very, very lightly around because it is one of the most overused and abused terms in environmental discussions surrounding the grazing of livestock--may be a problem in parts of the arid West of the United States, I can pin-point why with just two words: Continuous grazing. Cattle are not rotated in set pastures to graze a certain amout of forage for a set period of time, but rather allowed to spread out over a vast area and pick and choose which areas and which forage they like best. Naturally the BLM would set a limit as to how many cattle are allowed to be put into the area they are to graze.

However, to encompass all public lands in one scope over the entire country, continent or even world is wrong. Not all grazing lands respond the same way as the areas in Southwestern USA do. Many thrive under grazing, many grasslands need to be grazed by large ruminant herbivores like cattle in order to thrive and persist. Of course, not overstocking nor overgrazing and managing the grazing activities of the animals in a person's care is also important to ensure the various rangeland types and communities maintain their health and vigour.

Against: Let's talk about the number of invasive grass species that have been introduced in cattle forage that have/are quickly taking over the place of native vegetation that native animals rely on for food sources. For instance - in the 1920's tons of Johnson grass seed was bought as cattle feed from the Sears and Roebuck catalog where it was advertised as a "wonderful" cattle food. It is now a major invasive species and it hybridizes with cultivated sorghum and produces 'shattercane', which is agriculturally worthless. Then there is bufflegrass (Pennisetum ciliare), red brome (Bromus rubens), cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum)--well named as it pushes out native grasses and is seldom used as forage by native species and is also a huge contributor to wildfires due to its growth habits and its widespread domination of Western landscapes--and torpedograss (Panicum repens).

For: I have to ask: What point, exactly, where you trying to make? You start off with "[let's] talk about the number of invasive grass species..." then end with a rambling bit listing the species of grasses that have been introduced in your part of the world. Unless, from the gist of it, that you're trying to say that they, "have/are quickly taking over the place of native vegetation..." because they....???

Even though I would like to dismiss this particular argument as mere nonsense, it is my turn to present my side of the argument.

Of course grasses and various forb species have been introduced into North America from countries of Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa for the purpose and belief that they were "better and higher quality" than the native vegetation. Recent studies of rangeland vegetation and responses to grazing, drought and fire have debunked this belief beyond debate. (At this point it may seem like the For side is proving the "point" of the Against side, which is true, but there are disparaging differences from what was mentioned above.) As a result, efforts are underway to prevent and discourage these species, many more than what was mentioned above, from further taking over our fragmanted rangelands.

An invasive species to note is Crested Wheat Grass (Agropyron pectiniforme), introduced from Western Siberia into Canada. A. pectiniforme is currently causing issues in Grasslands National Park (located in southern Saskatchewan, Canada) from something completely opposite to what has been mentioned by the Against side: several decades of extremely light grazing pressure due to the federal government's erroneous mandate to, upon creation of this national park in 1980, prohibit any sort or level of grazing by cattle from neighboring private lands. It took over 30 years for someone to make the bureaucrats from Ottawa realize they made a huge mistake. Now, two-thirds of the national park is covered in this invader, and efforts are underway by Parks Canada and local officials and range managers to do anything possible to combat this aggressive invasive species, including introducing cattle grazing into the park (like what should've happened 30 years ago when the park first opened), perform controlled burning, and utilize herbicide treatment. The federal government learned a hard lesson to listen to the local ranchers who knew from generations back how to take care of the land instead of ignoring them and listening to the bad science and lobbyists who are a part of the "Against" side.

Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense) is still being used as a forage, but has been shown to be poisonous to livestock when the right conditions arise, creating significant issues with nitrate toxicity during periods of drought or frost that affect the nitrate levels in this C4 (warm season) grass. Johnson grass is also a huge concern for prussic acid (cyanic acid) poisoning in the right conditions (drought or frost), since it is the most toxic of common sorghum (Sorghum vulgare), arrow grass (Triglochin supp.) and sudan grass (Sorghum vulgare var sudanensis). And yes, it is considered to be a noxious weed that is being waged war upon in the south and west USA. (It comes to no surprise that it can hybridize with sorghum since it is a subspecies and very closely related with S. vulgare.) However, it should never be looked over that S. halepense is simply being left to spread all over the United States, because no doubt there are private, public and rangeland land managers out there finding ways to get rid of this aggressive invasive species.

Cheat Grass (Bromus tectorum; also known as Downy Brome, Downy Chess, and even June grass) is nutrient poor particularly when it reaches maturity. It too is (I hate to reiterate) an invasive species of little value to livestock producers, but it is not a plant that actively "pushes out native grasses." Rather, it is more of the type that prefers to move into areas where land has been abused by overgrazing or soil is exposed naturally; in other words, it grows in waste and disturbed areas. Overgrazing exacerbates the cheatgrass issue. But a huge contributor to the spread of wildfires? That's stretching the truth a bit.

Cheat grass is not as huge a contributor to the spread of wildfires as increased litter in a rangeland habitat is. However, what may be implied is that since B. tectorum grows quickly and halts growth by the time late summer arrives, it contributes to a dried layer of litter. As litter piles up and the frequency of fires occuring in grasslands are limited to barely once every 10 years, if that, the intensification of these wildfires increase with the huge amounts of litter that have accumulated over a long period of time, much longer than what is considered natural. But the thing that we must remember is that B. tectorum does not grow every where nor is the main contributor to great and highly intensified wildfires: bad management and a poor understanding of the inherent natural disturbance patterns and frequency of certain plant communities existing in a certain area are to blame here (which brings us right back to the human element).

Fire, of course, is just one type of disturbance that is needed to maintain a healthy rangeland ecosystem. Grazing, browsing, and even insect "infestations" by such species as the grasshopper are other disturbances needed to maintain rangeland health and productivity, and even to combat these invasive species we made the past mistake of bringing in.

Against: What about the native species that have been poisoned, trapped, shot, and otherwise killed by the millions (literally) so that non-native cattle can have free range of public lands at a subsidized rate to ranchers which taxpayers subsidize? I am thinking of wolves, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, prairie dogs, ferrets, bears, etc. Wildlife Dis- Services, a department of the USDA, spends millions of taxpayer dollars every year (again, literally) to kill 100,000+ of many of the above animals primarily at the request of the Western grazing industry - often on public lands, which are supposedly owned by you and me.

For: Public lands are inherently multi-use lands, not national parks, national monuments nor national forests where such preservation prevails over economic activities. So unless you want the US Congress to change such lands over to national parks, there's nothing you can do other than educate yourself about conservation efforts that the USDA wildlife service attempts to do to maintain wildlife populations in all lands "supposedly owned" by its American citizens.

In today's world, wildlife cannot sustain themselves nor their populations any longer. It is up to us to make the management decisions to keep wildlife populations at a healthy number that will result in significant socio-economic issues in the long run.

However, there are most likely better management initiatives than what, reportedly, the Wildlife Services of the USDA have had to offer as far as using lethal devices to dispose of problem wildlife and feral, invasive wild animals. There are reports that the Wildlife Service agency is losing control and losing touch as to what "conservation" really entails, evidenced by the concern voiced by Congressmen Robert DeFazio and John Campbell have for the conduct of this branch of the federal service (see the related link below for a current [as of January 2014] LA Times article on the call to review the Wildlife Services agency).

That said, it is actually false claim to imply that the Wildlife Service Agency is primarily funded for wildlife control primarily at federal lands level. The WS agency is more responsible for managing wildlife for private landowners than for public lands. They cannot actively manage wildlife populations on public lands unless called in to do so by the land management agency that is responsible for overseeing use of such public (state or federal-owned) lands.

Additionally, not all native species are targeted by ranchers and farmers and deemed a "threat" to their livestock. Several ranchers are now, more and more, managing their cattle in order to encourage wildlife biodiversity, targeting and planning around the natural activities of native wildlife like sage grouse, pronghorn, burrowing owls, deer, elk, moose, even the lowly prairie gopher that often gets targeted by ranchers, as well as the native natural predators. One ranch in Alberta, the TK Ranch, did just that (see the related link below) when they had a sudden influx of Richardson groundsquirrels move in onto their land. Instead of shooting and poisoning them, they left them alone, and soon the predators--hawks, badgers, foxes, and owls--moved in to take care of the problem for them.

Recent studies have been done on grazing cattle in wildlife habitat. Cattle that graze out the thick grasses that have pushed out the plants that elk graze in the winter encourage these plants to gain ground again, and encourages elk to come back to their old grazing land to find food in the winter time, all thanks to cattle.

From all that has been discussed, one can conclude for this question that cattle have a positive effect on the environment if managed properly and responsibly. Though cattle are indeed non-native animals to many parts of the world, and have been subject to much debate and concern as far as greenhouse gas emissions and intensive feeding and mixed farming operations are concerned, there is a light at the end of the tunnel with pasture-based, range-management systems that use cattle as a disturbance tool to maintain or increase rangeland biodiversity with, again, proper management skills and knowledge from the humans that take care of these large domesticated herbivores.

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