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Steak shortage is good for the environment (and good for you)

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Earlier this week, The New York Sun reported that several New York steak houses are being forced to change their menus due a shortage of some classic cuts of prime beef. According to The Sun, "The production of ethanol, which is made from corn, is one major reason classic cuts of prime beef are becoming more and more expensive." As the article goes on to explain, "Corn is the primary feed for cattle that produce USDA-grade prime beef. Corn is also the main ingredient for what many believe is the fuel of the future, ethanol. The production of ethanol has not only increased the demand for corn, it has made harvests more profitable for farmers, who receive the fruits of government subsidies when it is sold to ethanol producers." But is this so bad? Using the corn for ethanol will help the environment by producing cleaner fuel. Over time, it will also reduce our dependence on foreign oil. And do we really need to raise so many cows for beef? After all, cows are pretty cool creatures, but they are not so good for the environment. A United Nations report indicates that approximately 18% of all greenhouse gases are passed into the environment by burping cattle. (In defense of the cows, I would imagine that the cud chewing would make anyone emit some nasty stuff.) Furthermore, eating less meat may be even better for the environment than driving a hybrid car. Scientists at the University of Chicago have discovered that a typical American meat eater is responsible for nearly 1.5 tons more carbon dioxide per year than a vegan, due to the environmental impacts of animal agriculture. Beyond that, of course, cutting back on the steak is good for your health, since meat consumption has been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer and other diseases. Nevertheless, surely some die-hard carnivores will still want their routine pound of flesh -- grilled, broiled, baked, or fried -- just as we still see all those big, bloated SUVs on the road. (And I would guess that there's probably a good-size overlap of the two factions.) But just as the SUV drivers are willing to pay a small fortune each week to fuel their gas-guzzling vehicles, let them pay a little more for their prime cuts of steak. Maybe then they'll start to care (even if not for the right reasons). -----
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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
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