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To beef or not to beef? Views are split on the future of red meat in Canada

Click to play video: 'Food site Epicurious will no longer post beef recipes, citing environmental harm' Food site Epicurious will no longer post beef recipes, citing environmental harm
WATCH: (April 28, 2021) The beef industry is facing another campaign aimed at getting people to choose something else for supper. A major recipe website says it will no longer feature beef. Provincial Affairs reporter Tom Vernon explains what is driving the decision. – Apr 28, 2021

From the front lines of the environmental movement, to the kitchens of upscale restaurants, the battle against beef has been joined.

Epicurious, one of the largest cooking websites on the internet, recently announced it would no longer post new red-meat recipes, arguing beef production is not “environmentally-friendly.”

That followed stepped-up environmental campaigns against beef production. The World Wildlife Fund reported that ruminant livestock accounted for up to 18 per cent of global methane production, driving climate change.

High-end eateries are jumping on board. New York’s renowned Eleven Madison Park restaurant in Manhattan announced it would switch to plant-based food offerings.

“The current food system is simply not sustainable,” chef Daniel Humm told The New York Times.

For Mark Sisson, a former world-class Ironman competitor who champions a meat-inclusive “primal diet” in his best-selling nutrition books, it’s like the world has lost its collective mind.

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“I feel like we’re entering a bizarre point in human health and human history,” Sisson told me, arguing our proto-human ancestors ate meat long before modern homo sapiens became the planet’s dominant species.

“There is a war on meat,” he said.

Read more: Food site Epicurious will no longer post beef recipes, citing environmental harm

But others see the evolution of human diet in different ways.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a bizarre time,” Winnipeg animal-rights podcaster and journalist Jessica Scott-Reid told me.

“It’s more of a very critical time, a time to listen to environmental scientists.”

Scott-Reid said Canada is lagging behind other countries in recognizing the harm to human and environmental health from beef.

The Plant Protein Alliance in Alberta, a major Canadian centre for beef production, lost its government funding and shut down, she complained.

And the federal government continues to subsidize meat, dairy and egg production, even though the updated Canada Food Guide has placed more emphasis on plant proteins while dropping dairy as a separate food group.

“We need to be cutting back on meat production and meat consumption to save the planet,” she said.

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Scott-Reid points to the environmental impact of large-scale industrial beef production for proof.

“There are the greenhouse-gas emissions. There’s the degradation of our oceans and fresh water. Those animals have to create waste and where do you think all of that waste goes? There’s the tremendous amount of land we use to farm animals and to create the food those animals must be fed.”

Read more: Ransomware attack on world’s largest meat producer disrupts global production

But Sisson has a counter to that, too, arguing beef production should spread out to create new grasslands and reduce the environmental impact of concentrated feedlots.

“If you’ve ever flown from Vancouver to Montreal you would see the amounts of unused lands that could be utilized for ruminant beast grazing,” he said.

“We can find rangeland, grass-feed these animals and create topsoil. That’s what happens to the waste when animals eat their native grass diet. They poop and their hooves drive that into the ground.”

But Scott-Reid said the idea that animal agriculture is needed to generate new topsoil is a misleading talking point from the “Big Beef” lobby.

“We’ve had ruminants and other kinds of wild animals on the land regenerating soils forever,” she said. “That doesn’t somehow mean we have to slaughter and kill and eat them.”

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Watch for this battle over beef to heat up.

What Sisson sees as the “war on meat” is seen by others as a bigger struggle to save the planet and human health.

The “war” has only just begun.

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at mike@cknw.com and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.

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