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Check your sources (Editorial)

by | May 22, 2020

Blogging on May 15 for Beef Magazine, South Dakota rancher and agriculture advocate Amanda Radke sounded off about the latest issue of Junior Scholastic, a paid subscription publication that goes to 250,000 schools across the United States.
The cover story, “This Meat Could Help the Planet,” calls out beef as a “major offender” of the environment and offers lab-generated imitation meat as the solution.
“The article reads like an advertisement for fake meat, with all the popular anti-beef rhetoric,” Radke writes. “Blame climate change on cow burps and farts, and blame it on the grain, water and land used to produce a burger. Oh, and if you want to protect the planet, just cut back, you gluttonous kids!”
The article comes at a curious time, as worries of a meat shortage sent people scrambling for ground beef and chicken breasts and fake meat makers have seen a 264-percent sales increase during the coronavirus outbreak.
Radke said she’s been overwhelmed with e-mails and messages from angry parents and teachers over the matter.
What may be more overwhelming is the magnitude of parents who don’t question the information and take the steps to inform their children about the environmental and health benefits of beef production.
So Radke listed 10 statistics about beef production that would have helped students form a better opinion on the issue. Here are some of her more compelling points:
• Calorie-for-calorie, beef gives us the best bang for our buck. It would take seven tablespoons of peanut butter (670 calories), 3.5 cups of black beans (374 calories), or 1.25 cups of tofu (236) calories to receive the same 25 grams of protein available in a 3-ounce serving of beef (180) calories.
• Total direct greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. livestock industry have declined 11 percent since 1961, while production of livestock meat has more than doubled?
• Compared to 1977, today’s beef industry produces the same amount of beef with 33 percent fewer cattle?
• The greatest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions are electricity (28 percent), transportation (28 percent), and industry (22 percent) while U.S. animal agriculture contributes just 3.9 percent of total emissions, according to the EPA.
Marketed to middle school teachers with lesson aids and learning tools, Junior Scholastic routinely dives into heavy subjects in global and national current events and Radke’s accusation of propaganda are not the first. In 2011, articles on the coal industry and the Occupy Wall Street movement triggered rebukes from both sides of the political spectrum.
In the case of the coal article, activist groups railed against the magazine partnering with the American Coal Foundation to produce learning tools and resources about coal as a viable energy source.
The backlash was severe enough that Junior Scholastic pulled the content out of distribution.
Now it looks as if the script’s been flipped.
“This isn’t fearmongering,” Radke writes. “The proof is right in plain sight. These groups are pushing to enact government control over our food system and a dictated, one-size-fits-all plant-based diet for all people.”
This further illustrates the challenge agriculture has in showing the public the full picture of how it feeds the world. Resources abound from local and national ag organizations and foundations but going up against an entrenched corporate juggernaut in Scholastic is no small task.
The knowledge exchange over the kinds of issues Junior Scholastic takes on and presents to middle schoolers can be healthy, so long as it’s not a one-sided transaction.
Opinions are good. But well-educated opinions are better.

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