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ASAS Statement on Colorado Governor’s MeatOut Campaign

On March 20, 2021, Colorado Governor Jared Polis encouraged state residents to support “MeatOut Day” and not eat meat for the day. Polis said the reasons to skip meat included the health benefits of plant-based foods, concerns of animal cruelty, and the environmental impact of meat production.

The American Society of Animal Science supports science-based public health policies. Polis’ MeatOut proposal is not based on sound research into nutrition, animal welfare, or sustainability.

Colorado can be proud of its livestock industry. Producers across the state supply our country with healthy meat products while protecting animal welfare and the sustainability of animal agriculture.

Meat, like any other food, should not be eaten in excess. Meat in appropriate portions is an essential part of a healthy diet and an excellent source of nutrients such as zinc, B-12, iron, and protein. Meat is a rich source of high quality protein that provides a balanced mixture of essential amino acids to support optimal growth and development of children1, maintenance of muscle mass in adults2, and prevention of sarcopenia in the elderly3 . The form of iron found in meat is more readily absorbed4 by the body than the form of iron found in plant-based products. That is why the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans5 recommends serving red meat to infants starting at six months of age. 

Discouraging meat consumption can have serious consequences. A 2017 report6,7shows that over half of infants do not receive the recommended two servings daily of iron-rich foods in their diets, putting them at risk of anemia. Researchers have also documented a rise in obesity rates linked to sugar consumption, not meat intake. In fact, meat consumption is linked to reduced appetite8. Colorado’s own Department of Public Health and Environment9 has highlighted sugar consumption, specifically soda intake, as a cause of childhood obesity in the state.

Livestock producers take the issue of animal welfare seriously. There is no reason for animals to feel pain or stress during the production process. That is why producers across the state follow research-based animal handling practices, including methods to avoid leg injuries in cattle, stress during routine health checks, and pain during the slaughtering process. Many of these methods were developed by Colorado’s own Temple Grandin, Ph.D.10,  professor at Colorado State University, and an expert in animal behaviour.

Together, animal scientists and producers across the state of Colorado and the United States have also worked to make animal agriculture more sustainable—with substantial results. Advances in animal nutrition, breeding, and waste management means meat today is more sustainable than ever11. Today, just 3 percent of greenhouse gas emissions12 in the country come from livestock production, compared with 28 percent of emissions coming from transportation and 27 percent coming from the electricity sector.

Cattle also play a role in environmental conservation. Around the world, cattle allow humans to make the most of land that is unsuitable for growing crops. These regions, called rangelands, are home to trees, soil, and deep-rooted perennial plants that act as a significant carbon “sink.”13 Through responsible management of cattle on these lands, food can be raised while keeping more than 30 percent of the world’s carbon safely sequestered.

Rather than having one meatless day, the American Society of Animal Science supports several simple, science-based ways we can reduce the environmental impact of Colorado’s livestock industry:

We can support policies that reduce food waste. This would have the added benefit of helping the estimated one in ten14 Colorado households suffering from food insecurity.

We can also keep farms operating efficiently by supporting research into animal health and nutrition. A recent study15 from the University of California-Davis scientists shows that adding seaweed to cattle feed could reduce methane emissions from beef cattle by as much as 82 percent. This is just one example of the endless innovations that make American farms sustainable sources of nutritious meat products.

Finally, we can listen to the Coloradans dedicated to advancing nutrition, animal welfare, and sustainability. Across the state, scientists from the Colorado State University16 system serve as Extension specialists. These Rams bring the latest research to schools, clubs, camps, and barns across the state—every day of the year.

That is an effort we can get behind.