By Keith Roulston
One of the things that adds to the serenity of my neighbourhood is that three of my closest neighbours have cattle quietly pasturing in the fields.Yet I read that this scene is really supposed to make me worry for the fate of the planet.
The most recent reminder that cattle are a danger to the future of hamanity was a piece by Globe and Mail columnist Konrad Yakbuski on French politician Sandrine Rousseau who complained that the habit of French men to grill a steak on the barbecue was dangerous. There was more hope for women who didn’t like beef so well, said the piece.
This article appeared only a month after a similar piece on the perils eating beef drew a series of letters to the paper’s editor, three of the authors writing about the danger of eating beef and only one pointing out the fallacies involved in the view.
If ever the growing lack of first-hand knowledge about life on the farm was evident it’s in this sort of story. And it’s dangerous.
Meanwhile, getting very little attention was a published prediction that during the 2019 to 2046 time period Ontario’s population is projected to grow 35.6 per cent, or almost 5.2 million, over the next 27 years from an estimated 14.6 million on July 1, 2019 to almost 19.8 million on July 1, 2046.
Just last spring Premier Doug Ford proudly announced a number of new highways that would expand the growth of the Toronto area northward. This was just prior to his re-election campaign in which Ontario residents showed their approval of this and other promises. All of the cars on these highways and all of the emissions from the resulting houses would increase urban emissions.
Ah, but I suppose they would help solve the real environmental problem because a lot of pasture land would no longer be available for grazing cattle which are the real threat to the planet’s climate.
I’ll buy the argument that the burping and farting of cattle after they eat grass creates methane, and I admit that previously farmers were unaware ether that cattle expelled methane or that methane was so destructive.
Yet in the “good old days” there were an estimated 50-75 million buffalo roaming the western plains, each one eating grass and expressing methane. We aren’t complaining about the environment or the methane they produced. Instead urban Canadians are likely to complain that modern farming (mostly of wheat or canola) has reduced the territory available to the remaining, sadly-diminished herds.
The rest of the farm I live on grows a rotation of soybeans and corn and from what I can see, the renter heeds environmental prerequisites (better than the previous mixed-farming owner whose farming practices saw us, at the bottom of a long hill, inherit inches of his topsoil).
Still, when I look at large areas of neighbouring beef farms covered by pasture that is fertilized by grazing cattle, (admittedly producing methane), and hay fields fertilized by manure produced by the cattle in winter, without the need to have large machinery tearing over the land to plant and harvest crops, I somehow fail to see the great disadvantage of cattle.
You won’t hear urban critics asking the question, but I wonder about the underlying prejudices of the scientists who claim cattle are dangerous to the planet. And on the same newscasts that promote the danger of beef and other meats, I see praiseworthy stories on food being grown hydoponically in multi-storey downtown buildings. Really? That’s more environmentally friendly than farmland?
Still, I realize I have one unmistakeable fault. At my age I’m just not hip with modern thinking.◊