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How Green is My Burger?

Posted 5/12/2010

Michelle Gienow shows a certain na´vetÚ on the alleged environmental benefits of grass-fed beef ("Welcome Home, Big Beef," Eat Me, April 28). First, grass-fed may be better for the environment than factory-farmed products, but so what? Is robbing only three banks better than robbing five? Yes, but I'm not sure anyone should advocate robbing three banks. Even then, grass-fed beef requires a lot of pre-conditions before it could qualify as a practical solution.

Since production per acre drops significantly, there would be no way to meet the current average American intake of about 20 ounces per week for 300 million people. If intake dropped two-thirds to about 7 ounces per week, according to expert David Pimentel, then we could meet demand. But I don't see that happening anytime soon.

Since the price per pound is about 50 percent higher, there's no way to meet the financial constraints of the average American household. If the price dropped to current levels for factory-farmed beef, then perhaps the average American could afford it. And of course, the price would have to reflect the costs of compliance with all environmental laws and regulations--but, of course, there is little or no political will to end the subsidies and regulatory exemptions lavished upon the beef industry.

Most of the research supporting the alleged benefits of grass-fed beef is based on well-managed grasslands. However, since there is no objective certification process in place, there is no reliable method to verify that grass-fed beef is actually raised in a responsible manner. History shows that any certification process will be rife with resistance, complications, non-compliance, and endless debates about standards.

Environmentally better? Right now, grass-fed beef is largely a means to soothe a guilty conscience, while those who sincerely want to protect cows, the environment, and human health will be eating vegan meals most days of the week.

Mark Rifkin

Correction: Our story on filmmaker Susan Marks ("The Art of Murder," Arts & Entertainment, May 5) misquoted her in referring to CSI Executive Producer Naren Shankar as "she." Shankar is, in fact, a man. City Paper regrets the error.

Editor's note: This is the absolute last week to get in your submissions for Shoot. Score. Baltimore., our second annual short film contest, wherein the finalists will be screened at the Creative Alliance on May 26 and the winners will be awarded fabulous prizes. The deadline for entries is Friday, May 14; please visit for details. Hurry up, now.

Next week: our annual Sizzlin' Summer issue. So, uh, let the summer begin.

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