A Beef About Beef: Boycott Long Overdue

A BEEF ABOUT BEEF: BOYCOTT LONG OVERDUE? By Michael W. Fox. BVetMed. PhD. DSc. MRCVS SYNOPSIS The continuing assaults, documented in this review, by the cattle industry, on wildlands, biodiversity, indigenous peoples and wildlife, contributions to climate change and risks to consumers and public health call for full accountability: And change.

U.S. cattle ranchers have waged war on wolves and other predators for centuries, which ultimately disrupts the valuable ecological services these predators play in keeping deer and elk herds as well as forests, healthy; and indirectly, benefiting public health. (1.).

Following a February 10, 2022, court order, gray wolves in the contiguous 48 states and Mexico – except for the Northern Rocky Mountain population (Northern Rocky Mtn of ID, MT, WY; eastern 13 of OR, WA; north-central UT) – are now protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), classified as threatened in Minnesota and endangered in the remaining states. (ws.gov/initiative/protecting-wildlife/gray-wolf-recovery-news-and-updates). Wolf hunting in Alaska is virtually unregulated. This disturbing August 18, 2023 article by Christopher Ingraham USDA kills hundreds of Minnesota wolves to protect ranchers underscores the perpetuation of this insanity. (2). He writes: “In 2022, there were 174 documented wolf deaths in Minnesota, according to the latest state Department of Natural Resources data. Of those, 142 were killed by a relatively obscure arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture called the Wildlife Services division. —-USDA officers kill more wolves in Minnesota than in all other states combined, according to the program’s annual reports. That work is effectively a government handout to ranchers, who receive publicly funded protection for their privately held livestock. The ranchers also receive cash compensation from state taxpayers for their lost cattle, which in 2022 totaled $100,000 for 78 wolf predation claims, or an average of about $1,300 per claim. While individual ranchers can experience significant losses if wolves repeatedly target their cows, the overall impact on the state’s cattle population is negligible. There are about 2.2 million cows in the state, according to USDA data. The five or six dozen documented and verified wolf kills in a given year amount to a few thousandths of 1 percent of the total population. But the USDA’s actions in response inflict a steep toll upon Minnesota’s wolves. The 142 kills amount to fully 5% of the state’s estimated wolf population.”

Objective research reviews of such lethal “wolf control” conclude that killing wolves does more harm than good and can increase livestock losses! A 2014 report in the journal PLOS One found that livestock mortality increased as wolves were killed, possibly because the killings spurred surviving wolves to mate more often. “The odds of livestock depredations increased 4% for sheep and 5–6% for cattle with increased wolf control - up until wolf mortality exceeded the mean intrinsic growth rate of wolves at 25%. Possible reasons for the increased livestock depredations at ≤25% mortality may be compensatory increased breeding pairs and numbers of wolves following increased mortality. After mortality exceeded 25%, the total number of breeding pairs, wolves, and livestock depredations declined. However, mortality rates exceeding 25% are unsustainable over the long term. Lethal control of individual depredating wolves may sometimes necessary to stop depredations in the near-term, but we recommend that non-lethal alternatives also be considered.” (3).

Many Americans are still enchanted by the mythology of the pioneer’s manifest destiny to conquer the Western frontier, and the Cowboys who, among others. committed genocide and ecocide, fighting, and exterminating indigenous species, wolves and cougars, and peoples, the Anishinaabe, and almost annihilating the Buffalo to fatten the coffers of the Cattle barons.

The now critical depletion of aquifers, degradation of public “range” lands by over-stocked cattle, and destruction of prairie grasslands and draining of wetlands to raise feed for the livestock industry collectively amount to ecocide. This is compounded by chemical fertilizers that destroy soil microorganisms along with pesticides used on genetically engineered feed crops that have decimated beneficial insect and insectivore populations, from Monarch butterflies to bats and barn swallows and swifts, and cause cancer in consumers and especially farm workers. Livestock fecal waste, loaded with potentially harmful, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, contaminates the air, and pollutes ground/ surface and irrigation and drinking water. The highly publicized climate-change contribution of methane from livestock, and pollution, is but the tip of the iceberg-or animal waste-pile, - created by the global livestock industry and its hide-tanning and recycling subsidiaries.

The contribution of the U.S. beef industry to the Climate Crisis has been well documented, as well as the role of high beef consumption to various health problems including cancer. Yet this industry continues to be heavily subsidized with public funds by government which many analysts are now calling for immediate termination. (4).

According to one analysis, “About 85% of public lands in the western USA are grazed by domestic livestock, and they influence climate change in three profound ways: (1) they are significant sources of greenhouse gases through enteric fermentation and manure deposition; (2) they defoliate native plants, trample vegetation and soils, and accelerate the spread of exotic species resulting in a shift in landscape function from carbon sinks to sources of greenhouse gases; and (3) they exacerbate the effects of climate change on ecosystems by creating warmer and drier conditions.” (5).

To the cost of beef, we should add the expenses of monitoring, containing, preventing, and treating the many diseases cattle can suffer, some of which can infect us. (6): And infect wildlife that can in turn, infect cattle as with Brucellosis and Tuberculosis. As the human population increases along with livestock and demand for meat, there will be predicted increases in diseases harbored by wildlife infecting cattle and other farmed animals and more zoonotic diseases challenging the human populace. (7).

Cattle are routinely treated with pesticides and other anti-parasite drugs that are now a significant ecological and environmental concern. Since the 1950s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several steroid hormone drugs for use in beef cattle and sheep, including natural estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and their synthetic versions to boost productivity, along with various antibiotics in their feed, consumer risks notwithstanding. β-adrenergic agonists like Zilmax, (now banned in the U.S. over animal well-being issues) and Optaflexx ( ractopamine) are given to cattle and other farmed animals to make them leaner. But they are chronically stressed by this kind of neuro-psychotropic drug making them hyperalert. China is genetically engineering massively double-muscled cattle and other animals for human consumption. The anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, widely used until a recent ban, was highly toxic to India’s vultures who were consuming contaminated cattle remains and were almost exterminated across the subcontinent.

According to the Humane Farming Association, (HFA) “The Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) is like an insurance policy for livestock producers where the taxpayer pays the premium rather than the livestock producer. When animals die in harsh weather, the producer files a claim with the USDA. Under LIP, adverse weather events include, but are not limited to, earthquakes, hail, lightning, tornadoes, tropical storms, winter storms, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, extreme heat, and extreme cold. Compensating producers for dead livestock without ever requiring adequate shelter, shade, or other safeguards is a disincentive to farmers and ranchers to take the necessary steps to provide their animals with protections from inclement weather. Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that between 2013 and 2017, LIP issued payments of $198,877,658 to farmers and ranchers for animal deaths due primarily to weather-related issues. Since that time, says USASpending.gov, another $157,283,183 was paid to producers under LIP. LIP benefits represent misuse of taxpayer dollars and government waste at its most flagrant.” (8).

To top this off, a vast tonnage of discarded animal parts condemned for human consumption, notably the designated “4-D” meat, from dead, dying, debilitated and diseased animals at the processing plants, is profitably recycled into pig and poultry feed and pet foods.

Our historical consumption of meat does not justify the present quantity and frequency. Raising an animal or tracking and killing one to eat is generations away for most people around the world. They have others kill and dismember them in slaughtering facilities where there is much animal terror and too often mishandling and, especially in the U.S., unsafe conditions for workers, many of whom are immigrants. (9).

According to one analysis (10) the United States federal government spends $38 billion every year subsidizing the meat and dairy industries. Research from 2015 shows this subsidization reduces the price of Big Macs from $13 to $5 and the price of a pound of hamburger meat from $30 to the $5 we see today. The U.S. government has blocked attempts to have “Country of Origin” labels on all beef products in the marketplace. (11).

From 2008-2017 the Brazilian government invested $22.2 billion in the beef industry. In two extraordinary years, 2015 and 2016, tax revenue from the meat sector fell short of the government benefits it received. While problematic on their own, such economic incentives encourage cattle producers to burn additional rainforest, mostly illegally, to make additional room for cattle ranching, destroying endangered species’ habitat in the process. (12).

Soybeans are imported from Brazil to feed livestock and poultry, and beef. One hamburger in your store probably containing meat from abroad as well as from Australia and U.S. producers. The US imported a record-breaking amount of fresh beef from Brazil in 2022. In January 2022 alone, imports reached nearly 100 million pounds—a more than 500 percent increase relative to the same month a year earlier—with fresh beef accounting for 83 million pounds, according to USDA. (13).

Brazil was the largest beef exporter in the world in 2020 followed by Australia, the United States, India and Argentina. Seven countries exported more than 1 billion pounds of beef in 2020: Brazil, Australia, the United States, India, Argentina, New Zealand, and Canada. (14). Family-owned, Minnesota-based multinational Cargill Co. is deeply involved in these extractive activities that call for ending deforestation and violation of human rights, as per the appeals by several organizations in coalition in their report “A Grain of Truth.” (15).

The Amazon has started to release carbon. In 2021, air samples revealed that the rainforest’s carbon uptake has weakened and some parts have become a source of carbon dioxide. “What we were predicting to happen perhaps in two or three decades is already taking place,” says climate scientist Carlos Nobre. Large-scale deforestation is the most visible threat. But even intact forest is no longer as healthy as it once was, because of climate change and the impacts of agriculture that spill beyond farm borders. (16).

India, with a population of 1,425,775,850 with an estimated 224.3 million undernourished in 2019-2021, according to a U.N. report, is yet one of the world’s largest exporter of beef (from water buffaloes). About 1.5 million metric tons of Carcass Weight Equivalent (CWE) of beef and veal were exported from India in 2022. India is the remaining top four beef exporter with steady exports expected in 2023. India exports large quantities of water buffalo meat (carabeef) to low-end markets in Indonesia and Malaysia. (17).

Alan Colchester, a professor of neurology at the University of Kent, and Nancy Colchester, writing in the medical journal The Lancet, proposed a theory that the most likely initial origin of BSE in the United Kingdom ( Mad cow diseases that decimated the U.K.’s cattle industry and also infected some consumers) was the importation from the Indian Subcontinent of bone meal which contained CJD-infected human remains. (18).

It was certainly a crime against Nature when the World bank and other development agencies funded the construction of thousands of miles of fences to support Botswana beef barons, resulting in the deaths of millions of wildlife unable to migrate seasonally to find food and water. (19).

Domestic cattle roaming and breeding freely and becoming feral are an issue in several countries, especially in Australia and even the U.S. as an invasive species. (20).

Many of the 5 million stray cattle are discarded males (castrated bullocks used as beasts of burden) or no-longer productive milk cows. State governments run by the party of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi have tightened laws to protect cows, making it harder for farmers to sell for slaughter cattle that are no longer giving milk. (21).

There are safer and more sustainable, alternative sources of nutrients including microbial proteins that need to be utilized for the common good and the good of the Commons. (22). The social, public health and environmental costs of this entire global beef industry and associated inhumane CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) for dairy cows, pigs, and poultry, should be ethically unacceptable in any civilized, democratic society.

A significant next step in helping secure a viable planet for generations to come is transitioning to organically certified, grass-fed, free-range cattle production when the livestock industry is supported by consumers and governments, utilizing the positive ecological services of these animals as well as sheep and goats, when in low and healthy numbers, in the restoration and maintenance of grasslands, steppes, and prairies around the world. I have met with Western cattle ranchers, East African and S. Indian cattle herders, for whom I have sympathy; and witnessed how their animals are handled and slaughtered. All of us must change if we are to ever restore the healing connections of One Health for our One Earth. After all, none of the plants we eat can infect us with diseases, (many preventing us from disease and ageing), while the animals we consume most certainly do.


By Dr. Michael W. Fox From Animal Doctor syndicated newspaper column Nov. 2023

DEAR DR. FOX, I enjoyed, if that is the right word, your series on Beef and the urgent need to change our eating habits. You mentioned the extermination of the buffalo/bison and I wonder of you saw Ken Burn’s two part series on PBS TV “The American Buffalo: A story of Resilience”, and what you thought of it. I was moved to tears and rage.

K.L., Fargo ND

DEAR K.L., I share your emotions and a kind of moral outrage that I can barely articulate but which many of the people Burns interviewed, such as Dan Flores (whose book Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History is a great read) did so with clarity and eloquence. It is difficult to imagine some 30 million and probably more Bison/Buffalo being reduced to a few thousand by a wholly uncivilized people who regarded the indigenous peoples, the Anishinaabe, as uncivilized savages.

The one missing piece in my opinion is somewhat reprehensible: No attention was given to the vital role of many veterinarians in maintaining and protecting the health of the last of the Buffalo, great Bison of the grasslands, from Brucellosis and Tuberculosis and other diseases they get from cattle, and in turn, can infect the cattle that should never have been there in the first place.

I hope there will be a follow-up, which I think Mr. Burns owes to the Buffalo, documenting the ecocide of the cattle industry and ploughing of the Buffalo’s grasslands to raise corn and soybeans for the poultry, beef, and pig industries at home and for export as far away as China.

Animal factory farms are an environmental abomination and a public and wildlife health risk. There should be more public exposure of these CAFOs-confined animal farming systems, as the industry calls them, wherein animals are extremely confined, overcrowded and stressed and thus susceptible to diseases for which they are given ever more vaccines. and medications in their feed, as well as drugs to make them be more “productive.”

Gone is the Buffalo wolf and almost gone the Swift fox, Black footed ferret and Prairie dog communities. But there is a glimmer of rewilding of the great prairies as Buffalo herds increase and fewer people eat beef, a corrective for the crime of ecocide against the Buffalo Nation, and from a One Health perspective, enlightened self-interest. Replacing annual crops that do not hold the soil with a perennial grain such as kernza, developed by my friend the late Wes Jackson, would be part of the prairie CPR -conservation, preservation, and restoration, -long overdue.

So, I appeal to Ken Burns to do a sequel to his Buffalo documentary that includes these related issues since it is a false hope simply to have a few breeding herds of Buffalo whose “resilience” is ultimately as dependent upon how we all chose to live. The new book by Dan Flores, Wild New World: The Epic Story of Animals and People in America is an excellent read for all who want to learn more about what has been lost and can and should be restored.

Restoration- “rewilding”-means restoring the vital species, plant, and animal, that maintain the prairie/grassland/woodland ecosystems. That is just restitution for the Buffalo Nation. Just having a few herds in parks and ranches is just not just enough! It is a challenge to restore and protect natural ecosystem biodiversity, control invasive species, including our own, but every effort for the good of the Whole and what some see as the Holy, will be good for the health of all.

REFERENCES 1. https://drfoxonehealth.com/post/wolves-and-human-well-being-ecological-public-health-concerns/ 2. https://minnesotareformer.com/2023/08/18/usda-kills-hundreds-of-minnesota-wolves-to-protect-ranchers-profits/ 3. Wielgus RB, Peebles KA (2014) Effects of Wolf Mortality on Livestock Depredations. PLoS ONE 9(12): e113505. doi:10.1371/journal. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0113505 4. S. Vallone and E.F. Lambin, Public policies and vested interests preserve the animal farming status quo at the expense of animal product analogs, One Earth (2023), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.oneear.2023.07.013 5. Kauffman, J.B., Beschta, R.L., Lacy, P.M. et al. Livestock Use on Public Lands in the Western USA Exacerbates Climate Change: Implications for Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation. Environmental Management 69, 1137–1152 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-022-01633-8
6. https://iacuc.wsu.edu/zoonoses-associated-with-cattle/# 7. Miller RS, Farnsworth ML, Malmberg JL. Diseases at the livestock-wildlife interface: status, challenges, and opportunities in the United States. Prev Vet Med. (2013) Jun 1;110(2):119-32. doi: 10.1016/j.prevetmed.2012.11.021. 8. HFA-LIP-fact-sheet.pdf 9. Gail A. Eisnitz. Slaughterhouse, The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry Prometheus, 2006. 10. https://www.aier.org/article/the-true-cost-of-a-hamburger/
11. https://www.drovers.com/news/ag-policy/quit-making-money-backs-american-producers-usda-proposes-us-beef-labeling-updates 12. https://news.mongabay.com/2020/05/brazilian-taxpayers-subsidizing-amazon-clearing-cattle-ranches-study-shows/# 13. https://www.tsln.com/news/us-imports-from-brazil-continue/#: 14. https://www.tsln.com/news/us-imports-from-brazil-continue/#: 15. See burninglegacy.org and www.stand.earth. 16. d41586-023-02599-1.pdf “We are killing this ecosystem”: the scientists tracking the Amazon’s fading health (nature.com) 17. https://www.drovers.com/news/industry/major-beef-exporters-and-importers-2023. 18. Colchester AC, Colchester NT (2005). “The origin of bovine spongiform encephalopathy: the human prion disease hypothesis”. Lancet. 366 (9488): 856–61. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)67218-2. PMID 16139661. S2CID 38330299.). 19. Botswana : environmental policies and practices under scrutiny. The Lomba Archives https://portals.iucn.org/library/ 20. https://www.hcn.org/articles/south-landline-the-feds-crack-down-on-feral-cattle, 21. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/india-five-million-stray-cattle-sacred-hindu 22. Humpenöder F.et al Projected environmental benefits of replacing beef with microbial protein. Nature. 2022; 605: 90-96https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-04629-w).