Don’t Cattle Take up Too Much Land?

The myth busting has come thick and fast in the last few chapters. Chapter 11 is no different. The truth is no, cattle do not take up too much land. What a surprise.

Sacred Cow: The Nutritional, Environmental and Ethical ...
Bring on the Documentary

Our authors begin with the Meatless Mondays claim that livestock take up “75% of Earth’s Agricultural Land.” Given that mainstream Western culture is pathologically addicted to lying, you will be shocked Dear Reader, shocked, to learn that this 75% figure is pure hooey. Anti-meaters will often link this claim to charges that you can produce far more vegetables on an acre of land than beef.

Rodgers and Wolf first remind us that meat, and beef in particular, is far more nutrient dense than vegetables. So it’s not like-for-like. So what if you can grow more corn on an acre of land if that food is nutrient poor (and in my opinion poisonous). Perhaps more importantly, our authors make the obvious point that “most of the world’s agricultural land cannot grow tomatoes, potatoes and carrots (or other crops).” Ultimately, ruminants are not competing for space that could be used for crops. Thus, the whole vegan argument that cattle are stealing land which could be better used for making Little Johnny’s sticky buns falls flat on its face.

Did you know that only 3% of the Earth’s surface is considered prime cropland? That’s from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), hardly a champion for beef. In total, the FAO states that 36% of the planet’s surface is considered arable. Does that mean you can grow whatever you want on this land? Of course not. Rodgers and Wolf use the Congo as a case study: 50% of the land in that country is suitable for one crop only, cassava. Only 3% is capable of growing wheat. What if the Congo converted all their land over to cassava production at the expense of ruminants? Do people want to eat nutrient poor cassava? Should they? Is there a demand for this crop? Is there a way to get it all to market before it rots? Their conclusion is simple: “If the land can only grow a product that not many people want (or should be eating), then is it truly valuable when it’s used exclusively as cropland?”

Once again our authors switch gears near the end of the chapter and make a case for rehabilitating land that has been exhausted from monocrops or over-grazing. Crop rotation, growing cover crops like clover, moving ruminants around so they don’t over-graze are all discussed. The end result is better soil, “No matter the technique, the main idea we’re trying to get across is this: by far the best thing a farmer can do is increase soil biology, which is what’s necessary to make mineral bioavailable to plants.” Ruminants are integral to this process.

Conclusion

A short, snappy chapter that debunks another green shiboleth. Rodgers and Wolf finish with another rhetorical question for the green totalitarians out there:

“Instead of dictating that everyone in the world must eat less meat to save the planet, what if we stopped or dramatically reduced our intake of animals that eat grains and instead started eating more animals that eat grass? And what if those grass-eating animals were managed in a way that improved soil health and increased the capacity of land to produce more and better food?”

Don’t expect an intelligent, logical answer any time soon.

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