Where’s the beef?
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, it is not on American consumer’s dinner tables.
Americans consumed 19 percent less beef from 2005-2014, according to the NRDC’s new study, which resulted in the “biggest driver behind a 10 percent per capita decrease in diet-related climate pollution during the same time period.”
But a local farmer has a different perspective on beef consumption.
Jesse Green, owner of Greenway Farm said that beef consumption is not down, but the way that beef is bought has changed. He said people are coming directly to the farm to make their beef purchases.
“I believe people are going directly to the farms and buying beef,” he said. “Especially since the grass-fed beef movements have increased, and there is no way to track the consumption whenever people go directly to the farms to buy beef.”
Greenway Farm in Alachua has about 50 cows, but Green does not sell all of them. He said he started raising grass-fed cows in 2006.
“A lot of people think that commodity beef, since it’s fed an unnatural diet and also supported with prophylactic antibiotics, is not a healthy product,” Green said. “They are going directly to the farm and buying their beef.”
Dr. Matt Hersom, associate professor and extension beef cattle specialist at the University of Florida, said that there has been a reduction in protein consumption “across the board,” but demand for beef is still present.
“The information that we get from our livestock agricultural economists and the National Cattleman’s Beef Association would indicate that demand for beef has not decreased over the last 15-20 years,” Hersom said. “In fact demand has continued to increase.”
Hersom said that a decline in consumption could be due to rising prices of beef. These rising prices are influenced by droughts in the West and Southwest that lowered beef production.
The consumption decline could be because of the rising prices because of a lessened supply of beef in the U.S.
“I think some of that decline in consumption may be based more on the consumer deciding how they are going to spend their dollars rather than the idea that they are making a conscious decision on trying to save the environment,” he said. “Primarily, most of our food selections are based on price set point rather than social awareness.”
The industry is changing, and Hersom said that there is an effort on the production side to enhance the environment.
“I think overall the American beef industry has been very sensitive to the environmental aspect of our industry,” Hersom said. “We are working very hard at reducing the carbon footprint, water usage by our animals.”
UF senior Michelle Taepakdee is studying animal science and said she has taken several meat-related classes. She said these classes teach meat processing, with one of her labs held in the University of Florida Meat Processing Center, a center that sells and processes meat.
“Even though I don’t eat meat, I feel really comfortable with the way that the industry processes meat because it is extremely humane,” Taepakdee said. “They take every step there that they can in order to make sure that the animal doesn’t suffer and also the lab is really clean.”
She said that red meat consumption has been addressed because people have become more health conscious and concerned with cholesterol and fat. The meat process is focusing more on an organic raising process.
Green said that these statistics from the NRDC don’t reflect what he has seen on his farm. He said beef and beef consumption is important to the country and American culture.
“You can’t substitute pork and chicken for beef, Green said. “You can’t eat enough chicken to make you not want beef. That’s the way it is.”