Op-Ed: What’s Behind That Recommendation to Reduce Red Meat?

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By Dr. Richard Thorpe, past president, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association

Image for illustration purposes only
Image for illustration purposes only

Mega Doctor News

Recommendations to adopt a plant-based diet seem to be aimed at the American public every day. Livestock are blamed for harming the soil, water, and atmosphere. The incessant cautions about too much red meat in our diet make me wonder if these celebrities and “Green New Deal” politicians really think Americans eat off platter-sized plates heaped end-to-end with beef.

Instructions to reduce or eliminate red meat, particularly beef, from the diet are part of the one-size-fits-all solution prescribed on radio, TV, news, entertainment, and social media.

“Get enough sleep. Exercise 150 minutes a week and avoid red meat,” seems to be the common slogan to create great health say these professional health commentators.

Dr. Richard Thorpe
Dr. Richard Thorpe

I agree that we need enough sleep, but I encourage my patients to exercise by doing something they enjoy and to eat a varied diet with a balance of protein and colorful fruits and vegetables. This is a prescription for overall wellness that just about anyone can do.

Beef is a nutrient-dense food that should be in our diets. A 3-ounce serving of lean beef provides 10 essential nutrients in about 170 calories, including high-quality protein, zinc, iron, and B vitamins. There is not another protein source that offers that same nutrient profile. And, most people already consume beef within global science-based dietary guidelines.

As for the claims that livestock ruin the environment, consider what and where beef cattle eat. In the face of a growing global population, we need ruminant animals, like beef cattle, to help produce more protein with fewer resources. Cattle can graze on pasture and rangeland that is too rocky, steep, or dry to be used for growing crops. Ninety percent of what cattle eat is forage and plant leftovers that people cannot eat and would contribute to the growing problem of food waste.

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Cattle expand the land available for human food production and do so while co-existing with their environment. Cattle also mitigate the risk of wildfires with their foraging and provide us with high-quality protein that plant-based proteins cannot.

Our beef carbon footprint in the U.S. is 10 to 50 times lower than other regions of the world because we have improved our productivity with advances in better cattle genetics and better animal nutrition. Did you know that in the U.S., the same amount of beef is produced today with one-third fewer cattle as compared to the mid-1970s? 

Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences found that if all livestock in the U.S. were eliminated and every American followed a vegan diet, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by only 2.6 percent, or 0.36 percent globally.

My medical education, and life in general, have taught me to look at medical news reports with a critical eye to discern the underlying motivation. Too often, closer scrutiny of the latest research brings its validity into question.

Before anyone considers completely eliminating a food from their diet, I encourage you to check multiple respected scientific sources. Check with your own doctor for advice and evaluate the validity of the research. Those who want to create change in our society have found that health scare tactics can be a useful tool.

Rely on sound scientific knowledge for your decisions about your diet and health. That is what we do at Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) when we create policy on issues important to cattle raisers. And that is what we will continue to do to defend and honor those who are the stewards of land and livestock.

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