Most Texans will smile politely and nod when listening to a person who says beef is bad. That’s because Texas is the top beef-producing state in the nation, and raising cattle is the largest part of Texas agriculture. Fortunately, science—not media—assures us that beef is good for us and good for Texas, and cheers our centuries-old tradition of enjoying beef well done, regardless of how it is prepared.
For much of their early history, Americans did not eat much beef; settlers ate plenty of bison, fowl, and fish. Longhorns, descended from Spanish cattle, were abundant in the Spanish mission area of eastern Texas, but were mostly traded for their hides and rendered fats because the meat wasn’t considered high quality.
By the 1850s, as longhorns interbred with other European cows, beef had become a more popular food so ranching had diversified and grown. Just prior to and during the Civil War, however, the northern Army blockaded trade at the Mississippi and, as a result, many cattle were simply stuck in Texas. By war’s end, there was a glut of mature cows in Texas in need of consumers, which dropped the price to about $5 per head. Fortunately for traders, they were worth $40 a head to hungry folks in big cities across the eastern half of the country and ranch profits took off.
From the 1870s until the mid-1890s, cattlemen and cowboys herded more than 5 million cattle to rail yards and cow towns and helped make a few millionaires along the way. Among them were Gustavas Swift who, through several patents and trials, facilitated use of the first refrigerated railway cars. This allowed Texas ranchers to stay in the Great Plains and ship their cattle to Chicago meat packing plants, which could distribute products quickly and safely in greater quantities.
Today, while energy is still #1 in Texas, agriculture is #2 and beef and cattle are the tops there—about two cows (beef and milk) for every three people in the state. Capital Land & Livestock CEO Jim Schwertner says, “Every county outside our metropolitan areas is still all about agriculture. Two percent of the population is feeding the rest of us and we have the safest food on the planet. I am very proud of our USDA food inspection for beef and other meat products. It is one thing our government does very well. This nation’s beef is fresh, wholesome, and safe.”
As for the future of cattle, ranching, and beef, Jim says, “I tell my children, ‘Don’t get nervous until you go into a McDonald’s or a steak house and they are empty.’ As long as people are eating beef, we and the cattle business will survive. We are feeding America. Anyone who tells you that beef is not sustainable, or that it’s not ‘natural,’ I remind those people that no rancher would let his children or grandchildren eat anything that wasn’t good for them.”
GOOD FOR YOU, NOT SO BAD FOR THE PLANET
Jim is right. Three 2019 studies in the Annals of Internal Medicine analyzed 61 past studies of more than 4 million participants to see whether red meat affected the risk of developing heart disease and cancer. All three concluded decreasing red meat consumption had little to no effect on reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, or stroke.
As well, plant-based meat trades on the outdated perception that it is healthier; however, a lean beef burger has an average of nearly 20 percent fewer calories and 80 percent less sodium than the top-selling veggie burger brands. Even-healthier Longhorn beef has 33 percent fewer calories, and 74 percent less fat. Fake meat is also highly processed and often made with palm oils, which tend to raise LDL cholesterol and contribute to cardiovascular disease(1).
On the large scale, while a plant-based diet may have health benefits, a 2017 USDA study concluded that the nation would not be healthier if we stopped eating cows. “Eliminating food animals would increase deficiencies in calcium, vitamins A and B12…and would require individuals to eat more food and more daily calories to meet their nutritional needs…because the available foods from plants are not as nutrient dense as foods from animals.” Further, it concluded that producing additional planted crops and the use of more synthetic fertilizer (replacing manure) would only represent a drop of about 2.6 percent of total U.S. greenhouse emissions(2) .
Texas farmers and ranchers have mastered sustainability and embraced technologies that reduce emissions and increase efficiency; i.e., they do more with less, because they are committed to producing the world’s food in a sustainable way. The cows themselves do their part in converting plants that are inedible for humans into protein people love. So, here’s to your health and the Texas economy…enjoy that hamburger.
WE HAVE THE SPACE
- Texas has the most farms, land in farms, cattle & beef cows in the United States.
- Twelve percent of the cattle in the United States are in Texas.
- Texas has more cattle than 43 states have people.
- Texas has more cattle on feed than Australia and Canada combined.
- While chili is the official state dish, Texans believe steak is the better Texas icon by 14 to 1.