No Rules!

“Rules? In a knife fight?” Harvey Logan, in a scene from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” was incredulous at the suggestion. Logan had challenged Butch for leadership of the Hole in the Wall Gang, to be decided by knife fight. Butch, of course, (played by legendary actor Paul Newman) had no intention of playing by any rules. It was a ruse Butch used to catch his 6’9” challenger off guard while he promptly kicked Logan between the legs. 

Such an analogy is appropriate as America’s cattlemen consider ways to combat the growing challenge from fake meat. It is clear the purveyors of plant-based and cell-cultured proteins will observe no rules as they scramble for a bigger slice of the protein market share. These start-up companies continue to sell their products by disparaging beef production as harmful to the environment and torturous to animals.

A common theme in many media reports, one recently appeared on CNN: “Hamburgers are hard on the Planet.” The article began, “Scientists have pointed to beef as one major culprit in climate change.” Also cited was a 15-year-old report from the United Nations, since debunked, that claims livestock production is responsible for “14.5% of all emissions produced by human activity.”

CNN is hardly alone in using erroneous data or cherry-picking facts to paint livestock production as an environmental boogeyman. Countless news organizations tell consumers that raising beef uses a tremendous amount of land and water, claiming some of those resources could be used to produce food more efficiently.

Beyond Meat provides one example of how such distortions are used against beef. Their mission statement: “By shifting from animal to plant-based meat, we can positively impact four growing global issues: human health, climate change, constraints on natural resources, and animal welfare.”

Often overlooked are some surprising facts about beef: cattle only account for 2% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions; compared to 1977, American cattlemen produce the same amount of beef with 33% fewer cattle; and, if all Americans went vegan U.S. GHG emissions would only decline 2.6%.

Combating misinformation about beef requires money and a concentrated effort. Riding point in this effort is your Beef Checkoff, which is strategically funding campaigns not just to promote beef, but to counter misinformation.

For instance, the recently approved FY 2021 budget will spend:

  • $7.3 million for consumer information programs, including a national consumer public relations campaign that will work with school curriculum directors nationwide to get accurate information about the beef industry into classrooms
  • $3.3 million for industry information programs, comprising dissemination of accurate information about the beef industry to counter misinformation from anti-beef groups and others

We can’t expect beef’s competitors and critics to observe any rules, which makes funding projects to counter their propaganda critical for the future of beef.