For decades it has been nearly universal dogma among environmentalists that livestock—goats, sheep, and others, but especially cattle—are Public Enemy Number One. They erode soils, pollute air and water, damage riparian areas, and decimate wildlife populations. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization bolstered the credibility of this notion with its 2007 report that declared livestock to be the single largest contributor to human-generated climate-change emissions.
But is the matter really so clear cut? Hardly. In her new book, Defending Beef, environmental lawyer turned rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman argues that cattle are not inherently bad for the Earth. The impact of grazing can be either negative or positive, depending on how livestock are managed. In fact, with proper oversight livestock can actually play an essential role in maintaining grassland ecosystems by performing the same functions as the natural herbivores that once roamed and grazed there. Grounded in empirical scientific data, Defending Beef builds the most comprehensive and convincing argument to date that cattle could actually serve as the Earth’s greatest environmental benefactors by helping to build carbon sequestering soils and prevent desertification.
Defending Beef is simultaneously a book about big issues and ideas and the personal tale of the author, who starts out as a skeptical vegetarian and eventually becomes involved with sustainable ranching. She shows how dispersed, grass based, smaller-scale farms can and should become the basis for American food production. And while no single book could definitively answer the thorny question of how to feed the Earth’s growing population, Defending Beef makes the case that, whatever the world’s future food system looks like, livestock can and must be part of the solution.
“Nicolette Hahn Niman just became beef’s most articulate advocate. In Defending Beef, she pivots gracefully between the personal and the scientific, the impassioned and the evenhanded. It’s a deeply compelling and delicious vision for the future of food.”
“I have traveled to every state in the U.S. during both summer and winter and have seen the land in extensive rural areas. There are huge land areas in this country that cannot be used for crops. The only way to grow food on these lands is grazing animals. Grazing done properly will improve the land. Defending Beef shows clearly that beef cattle are an important part of sustainable agriculture.”
“The prosecution will never rest after the case presented here by this unusually well-armed defense lawyer. Exactly how much and in what ways cattle benefit our world—whether or not we eat beef—have never been more thoroughly explained. Cattle are lucky to have such a remarkable rancher gal come to their aid on our behalf.”
“Nicolette Hahn Niman’s Defending Beef is as timely as it is necessary. With patience and passion she separates truth from fiction in the emotional debate about the role of beef in our lives and the effect of its production on our planet. Far from being a bogeyman of climate change and other environmental concerns, she argues, cattle, when properly managed, can play an important role in local food systems, land health, and carbon sequestration. The key is treating cattle as an ally, not an enemy, and exploring opportunities instead of simply pointing fingers. In this exploration, Defending Beef leads the way!”
“Defending Beef clearly and unequivocally connects the dots for us on how vitally important raising pastured beef is to humanity. From increasing the glomalin in soil that helps create healthy grass, to sequestering carbon, battling desertification, enhancing the water supply, mitigating climate change, and promoting biodiversity, Nicolette Hahn Niman carefully draws a constellation for understanding just how our food production systems affect people, culture and our ecosystem—for good or ill. The case is airtight and the jury is out: Cattle on pasture are an integral part of the solution.”
“I hope this book, which is more about the future of humanity, will be read by every citizen—not just those who feel the need to defend their meat-eating preferences. Biologist, environmental lawyer, and mother Nicolette Hahn Niman has provided a balanced report on the effects of cattle production on our environment, health, and climate change. Openly accepting the damage done by modern-day cattle production—on the land and in factory feedlots—she effectively argues that cattle themselves are not the problem; it is the way they are being managed that is endangering our health, environment, and economy. We can do something about that, and we must for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Key to our success will be an informed citizenry—for whom this book will be an invaluable tool.”
"Issues related to the long-term health effects of red meat, saturated fat, sugar, and grains are complex and I see the jury as still out on many of them. While waiting for the science to be resolved, Hahn Niman’s book is well worth reading for its forceful defense of the role of ruminant animals in sustainable food systems."