Meatonomics (02/24/14) (Rebroadcast)

Tim Koopman is a fourth-generation rancher; his family has been raising cattle on their ranch in Alameda County since 1918 and he now heads the California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA). David Robinson Simon is the author of a book that lambasts industrialized meat production. What did these two advocates from “opposite sides of the steer” have to say to each other when they sat down to debate the ethical, nutritional and environmental costs of animal agriculture? Host Greg Dalton started things off on the hot-button topic of animal cruelty. According to Simon, large factory farms have lobbied heavily to eliminate anti-cruelty protections for their industry. “So what we’ve seen the last several decades is that literally, anti-cruelty protections that once protected farm animals from abusive behavior have simply been eliminated in virtually every state in this country.” Koopman said that the demonization of his industry is based on inaccuracies; ranchers, he says, care about their animals. “It’s disturbing for us as livestock producers to have this perception that production basically lives on the backs of animals that are abused from the time they’re born until the time they’re slaughtered.” He was quick to point out that his 200-some head of cattle are treated with respect, nurtured and allowed to roam freely. And he adds that the 3,000 members of the CCA are equally vigilant. “Our membership is very cognizant of and very aware of… animal treatment, all the good things that go along with the nurturing of these animals. We will fight against the mistreatment of animals just as much as David or anybody else would.” Dalton next brought up the connection between livestock, methane emissions and climate change. According to the UN publication Livestock’s Long Shadow, nearly twenty percent of all greenhouse gases can be attributed to the livestock industry. Koopman challenged that figure, saying it was closer to three percent; Simon, not surprisingly, contends that the UN figures are conservative. Both men agree, however, that methane emission is a problem that needs to be addressed. Ironically, grass-fed cattle may be making things worse, not better, says Simon: “The unfortunate result is that they produce four times as much methane as grain-fed animals and so we get this very bizarre result that organically-fed cattle are not necessarily more eco-friendly than inorganically raised animals.” One solution, says Koopman, is genetic improvement, which has led to an overall reduction in the number of cows nationwide. Fewer cows, he points out, means less gas. But there are other reasons to believe ranching is straining our resources. “It takes on average, five times as much land to produce animal protein as it does plant protein,” says Simon. “It takes 11 times the fossil fuels and it takes 40 times or more water to produce animal protein than plant protein… that’s a major sustainability problem.” Koopman disagrees. With two-thirds of the land in the U.S. not farmable, he sees cattle ranching as a necessary part of global food sourcing. “We’ve got an increasing world population with huge demand for protein as a part of their diet. And on the absence of grazing livestock and having that land available to produce food, I think we would be in a lot worse shape than we are.” David Robinson Simon, Author, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much – and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter Tim Koopman, President, California Cattlemen’s Association This program was recorded in front of a live audience at The Commonwealth Club of California on February 24, 2014 Learn more about your ad choices. Visit

by Climate One