The Union of Concerned Scientists is applauding a new federal rule that ensures people who buy grass-fed beef don’t get meat from cows raised in feedlots.
The Washington-based environmental group, which prides itself on its scientifically based political positions, said beef from cows that are truly fed on grasses on the wide open range are not only healthier but better for the environment.
“Raising livestock on pastures avoids the crowding and illnesses that plague livestock in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs),” the group said in its press release Thursday. “Modern grass-fed methods are also more cost-effective and environmentally friendly because they take advantage of low-cost grasses that typically require little added water, and few or no synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. A growing number of farmers across the country are now turning to this modern approach to livestock production.”
Obviously, they didn’t consult Jon Marvel and the Western Watersheds Project. Marvel, Western Watersheds and some environmental activists in the West want to end grazing on public lands because their own-science-based political position is that grazing destroys wildlife habitat, leads to water pollution and dramatically changes the arid ecosystems of the American West.
“Putting an immediate end to the negative impacts of livestock grazing on every watershed on public lands in the West will result in a rapid recovery of degraded riparian areas and all wildlife species dependent on them,” Marvel said.
The ranchers raising cows on public land are raising their cows on grass that requires little water, no pesticides and, as Marvel often reminds us, at a low cost in part because of a federal subsidy. And Western Watersheds touts the fact that the vast majority of beef is not raised on public lands. Where is it raised? Feedlots?
While the views of the Concerned Scientists and Western Watersheds can be reconciled, it demonstrates that two environmental groups, focusing on different issues, can be working at cross purposes.
The new rule should be good news for Glenn and Caryl Elzinga of May, Idaho, whose Aldersprings Ranch Grass-fed beef is raised on their ranch and public lands in the Pahsimeroi Valley. Their beef has become popular nationwide because of its special care and taste. Their ranch is operated in a manner designed to protect the habitat for the chinook salmon that spawn there.
Most Idaho ranchers’ cattle are raised on grass and then finished, or fattened on corn in feedlots somewhere else. That accounts for the marbling fat that results in the taste and texture most Americans like the most.
I like both kinds myself and my family raised cattle as a hobby back in Illinois when I was a kid, feeding them corn along with the grass from our own pasture. But as a consumer, if I buy grass-fed beef I expect it to be raised on grass.
If I don’t want that grass to be on public lands then that’s a whole ‘nother label. Sheep ranchers have had success marketing “predator friendly wool,” where coyotes and wolves are managed around their lambs without killing them.
Maybe someone could market “Western Watersheds friendly beef,” or how about “Marvel mouth-watering beef.”
Just don't raise it in a feedlot or the Union of Concerned Scientists might protest.