New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman has a new approach to eating and health and wants you to share it with him. He also wants you to buy his new book, of course, which describes this new diet: VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health…For Good.
As the title suggests, Bittman believes a vegan diet before dinner time and a “reasonable” diet late in the day is the recipe to health and happiness. Bittman claims he is not a vegetarian, and that he enjoys a steak once in a while. But he has routinely criticized livestock production and animal foods. For instance, in a January column for The Times, Bittman wrote, our food system has “been a major contributor to climate change, spawned the obesity crisis, poisoned countless volumes of land and water, wasted energy, tortured billions of animals…I could go on.” Bittman asks his readers to start a movement to improve the conditions of livestock.
“Well-cared-for animals will necessarily be more expensive, which means we’ll eat fewer of them; that’s a win-win,” he wrote. “They’ll use fewer antibiotics, they’ll be produced by more farmers in more places, and they’ll eat less commodity grain, which will both reduce environmental damage and allow for more land to be used for high-quality human food like fruits and vegetables.”
If you’re a livestock producer it is likely you are more than mildly offended by Bittman’s claims. “Tortured billions of animals?” Seriously? Any livestock producer knows well-cared for animals are cheaper to produce and result in higher quality meat and increased profits.
Unfortunately, other prominent writers are repeating wild claims against the livestock industries. For instance, David Sirota, a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and best-selling author, also believes livestock production contributes significantly to climate change.
In a column written for Salon.com, Sirota cites a study that declares the livestock industries “produce between 18 percent and 51 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.” The study claims those percentages account for feed production, deforestation and animal waste.
Sirota says it is “demoralizing that we are incinerating the planet and dooming future generations simply because too many of us like to eat cheeseburgers.”
In a report published last year (and reported by Drovers/CattleNetwork) titled “Clearing the air: Livestock’s contribution to climate change,” Frank Mitloehner, animal scientist and air-quality specialist at the University of California-Davis, says that, in the United States, raising cattle and pigs for food accounts for about 3 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions, while transportation creates an estimated 26 percent.
Mitloehner says analysis of livestock’s environmental footprint is often flawed and can confuse the issues. Additionally, he says, “We certainly can reduce our greenhouse-gas production, but not by consuming less meat and milk. Producing less meat and milk will only mean more hunger in poor countries.”
Unfortunately, reports such as Mitloehner’s don’t generate much media attention. Columnists such as Bittman and Sirota would rather repeat the propaganda rather than examine the facts about livestock production.