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Dr. Sara Place on The Real Impact of Beef on the Environment

Updated: Sep 5, 2019

Dr. Sara Place - Peak Human Podcast


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Hey hey, what’s going on healthy friends? Is everyone eating densely and moving intensely? People have been saying I should make shirts or stickers for that phrase. Anyone want to help design that? I want it to look really cool.

Also for new people, or anyone really, I should quickly spell out what eating densely and moving intensely is. A nutrient dense diet with a full array of bioavailable nutrients and the least processing, sugar, and other antinutrients is what I’ve been exploring for the past 5 years and more intensely for the last 2. I’ve landed on the Sapien diet which is really a framework that many good dietary strategies fit into. Go to to learn more. Moving intensely just means resistance training and high intensity stuff like sprinting. There’s nothing wrong with long cardio workouts if you enjoy them, I just don’t think they're that efficient time-wise or for weight loss. Start back at episode one of this podcast if you haven't caught them all - you’ll be glad you did.

So hard cut transition to today’s episode with Dr. Sara Place. She works in sustainable beef production research at National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. She did her PhD under Dr. Frank Mitloehner at UC Davis who’s awesome and was a guest on a very popular episode a few weeks back. She’ll also be presenting tons of information that goes counter to all the vegan propaganda you hear thrown around in mainstream media or the social media world.

She works daily to improve the environmental impact of raising cattle. Beef producers also want to do this because they care for the environment just as much if not more than a vegan activist. It’s their livelihood. They care for animals, care for the land, and care about being efficient for the future of these as well as actually trying to make a few dollars off this challenging enterprise. Contrary to popular belief the meat industry gets zero subsidies from the government.

Sara was kind enough to spend almost 2 hours answering all my questions, partly to help prepare me for the presentation I'm giving at the big food industry conference in Chicago at the end of September and the friendly debate with the vegan activist lady after. This really helped and I hope it will help you get the other side of these arguments you never get otherwise.

Other updates and thinly veiled promotions include us compiling and editing all our footage for Food Lies. We’re really on a roll here and have some great graphics coming together. You can help fund these on Indiegogo by clicking through

My favorite thing I ate last week was definitely the lamb. I slow cooked some overnight with onions, rosemary, and garlic. Also the ground lamb with a bit of greek seasoning is one of the best things ever. Always sad when that runs out. Get a box delivered to you at and add on some marrow bones or cod liver - get some extra nutrition in the mix.

Also want to say thank you to Kristi for helping me daily. She also puts together the extended show notes for this podcast for supporters on Patreon at Throwing a few bucks a month helps support all this work. I’ll say it again - I really appreciate this community and couldn't do it without you guys! Much love!

Alright so that’s it! Enjoy this episode with Dr. Sara Place and support your local farmers and ranchers!


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  • Sara Place received her PhD from UC Davis working under Dr. Frank Mitloehner studying animal agriculture

  • She currently works in sustainable beef production research at National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

  • This association serves as a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program which is a program that beef farmers and ranchers fund for research and promotion as it relates to beef in the US and part of that is sustainability which is what she manages


  • Her research at UC Davis was measuring methane emission directly from cattle

  • People think the beef industry is an evil empire, but there are people trying to improve the impact

  • [5:30] Its harder to find something more important than how are we going to nourish ourselves for the next few decades

  • [6:30] only around 10% of cattle’s diet is edible to humans

  • Beef production in the US is based on grazing, forage of whole plants, and most are finished on grain

  • People assume cows spend their whole life in a feedlot but this is not the case

  • [8:44] Most of the animals are primarily eating forage, almost all feed resources going into producing beef is mostly forage the stuff humans can’t eat

  • CO2 out of the air, is transformed through photosynthesis, carbon is captured in plants, and if we ate them we wouldn’t be able to access the energy, but ruminants can and they turn it into food, it’s a symbiotic relationship

  • Beef production is not inefficient

  • Feed for beef is not in competition with the human food supply

  • If we were to compare cattle, to pigs, to chicken, it would look like cows would look like they need a lot more feed resources but if we look at human edible feed inputs, cattle are consuming less than chicken and pigs or at least equivalent

  • Chickens and pigs are monogastric, they have to eat more energy dense feed and higher quality protein source

  • Ruminants can consume forage resources and have a symbiotic relationship with the microbes in their gut that ferment the material and convert it into something that the animal can absorb and metabolize

  • This also plays into the feed efficiency when we look at what are human edible protein inputs going into the system vs outputs, this is where ruminants shine and are much more efficient than pigs or chickens, ruminants are the best from this standpoint

  • About 10% for US average of grain going to cattle but another 7-8% is from byproduct feed that humans can’t consume

  • [15:47] Cattles take this waste product and upcycle into something of worth

  • The plant based vs animal based foods dichotomy is false because it doesn’t take into consideration how agriculture works

  • Plant and animal agriculture is integrated

  • Plant-based companies are indirectly supporting animal agriculture

  • There are farms that integrate animal and plant agriculture together (for example, 1 acre of land producing corn and also supporting cattle for part of the year)

  • A lot of corn is grown to make ethanol and then cows can eat the byproducts of this

  • Crops today are far more efficient (higher yield for less space)

  • 38% of all domestic corn use in the US goes towards corn ethanol production for fuel and the same amount goes to all livestock, beef cattle is around 10% of this

  • Cattle accounts for about 8 million acres of corn, that’s about 2% of US cropland acres

  • [24:43] We generate more human protein by taking that corn and running it through cattle to generate beef than consuming that corn directly

  • If we look at the whole US cattle system we generate two times more high quality protein than goes into the cattle themselves

  • We have to ask the question “What’s the alternative?”

  • Soy as an alternative protein source wouldn’t produce more protein per acre than cattle

  • [28:55] These discussions are too far from reality because we have to consider what the actual alternative would be, and where corn is grown, a common alternative would be in fact a corn-soy rotation this is reality we’re not going to start growing quinoa or something similar

  • If we remove the cattle industry we lose grasslands and these grasslands play a crucial role in the environment and in ecosystems

  • [31:14] We could have a much smaller land footprint by producing a certain crop but we are degrading the soil over time so it’s not a durable or resilient system, so is that better?

  • We’ve lost the connection between the reality of the human animal bond and just the fact that human beings are part of the cycle

  • You can visit to see 360 degree videos of feedlots

  • Feedlot operators are proud of what they do, and the perception that its evil crushes them

  • Feedlot practices are a lot better than what is represented online

  • There are PhD researchers who formulate the diets of these animals to make it as efficient as possible it’s much more precise than human nutrition

  • The reality is that the resources in North America are lots of forage as well as all this byproduct from processing grain crops and so feeding it to animals makes sense

  • The majority of people live in cities and suburban areas so efficient food production is needed to feed everyone

  • We have gotten more efficient, the number of cattle in a herd today is the same size as it was in 1953 but we produce far more beef and milk with these cattle

  • It is not perfect but we are doing the best we can

  • Cattle and livestock are more than just food, they are a source of livelihood for people, they cycle nutrients, they provide all sorts of byproducts, we even use cow material in medicine (heart valve replacements)

  • The life cycle assessments are calculated inappropriately

  • [46:45] Eliminating livestock in the US wouldn’t solve anything

  • We are avoiding micronutrient deficiencies when we eat animal-sourced foods

  • 82% of the cattle’s feed comes from grass and forage, 7% from by products and 11% from grains

  • The best source is USDA to find out % use for each US commodity

  • Most of the beef raised in the US are family-run operations, even the feedlots

  • If you want to consume grass-fed beef that’s awesome, but there isn’t substantial evidence to say that grain-fed isn’t healthy

  • When animals go to a packing plant, they are screened for antibiotics and hormones so there is no contamination in the human food supply

  • Dairy is very highly regulated and is tested rigorously for antibiotics

  • In the US we have a very safe food supply

  • The FDA came out with a regulatory directive over two years ago that you cannot feed antibiotics to livestock for growth promotion but you can for disease prevention

  • They give antibiotic doses based on body weight, it is very precise, and they make sure to give a withdrawal period before going for slaughter where for human medicine the doctor will prescribe antibiotics in dosing that is the same for someone that weighs a lot more than you

  • Fossil fuels are a lot worse than the methane produced from cattle

  • On the GHG issue, remember that according to the EPA cattle contribute only 2% of GHG emissions most coming from methane

  • Cattle numbers are stable in the US for the last decade or so but methane is increasing so we can’t point our fingers at cattle

  • If we put all our hopes to fix climate change by eating our way out of it, unfortunately all our hopes will be lost

  • If we look at the potential impact of climate change, we do not want to pigeon ourselves into a less diverse agricultural system

  • The government does not directly subsidize beef production in the US it is 100% funded by the farmers and ranchers

  • There is a small group of researchers that kind of just cite each other to create consensus but there is a large amount of data showing the benefit of animal based foods, there is no consensus

  • Beef consumption in the US is going down

  • All of the food security challenges are happening in developing countries and we should be helping them out to improve

  • A lot of this privileged conversation is coming from the US and Europe and doesn’t take into consideration the other growing countries

  • There are so many people depending on animals for livelihood, food, power, etc.

  • If we want to make a big difference in climate change, changing your diet is not the way to do it

  • Fake meats and lab-grown meat is not the solution

  • We already have solar powered plant-based meat, it’s called beef.

  • Videos of feed lots


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1 Comment

Sep 02, 2019

Hi Brian,

i regret that you didn't bring up, in the interview with doctor Place, some crucial

issues. Such as: the use of glyphosate on crops, feeding GMO crops to animals that are then eaten by humans; The fact that the fecal matter from the pools where it's collected (in CAFOs) is being sprayed on crops, ...

Criticism aside, my husband and I watch your stuff and enjoy it a lot. Keep up the good work!


Racheli Gai,

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