When Axtell farmer Steve Nelson became president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, he couldn’t have imagined he would be verbally sparring with a candidate for U.S. president — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. However, for leaders like Nelson, circumstances create the necessity to speak out, especially when it involves misconceptions about agriculture.

According to the Farm Bureau, de Blasio has announced a plan to slash meat consumption in schools and other city facilities as the Big Apple’s contribution to a healthier planet. De Blasio is basing his “let’s eat less beef” on the belief that cattle production causes undue pollution and wastes earthly resources.

New York City, says de Blasio, should reduce its purchases of beef by 50 percent at all city-controlled facilities, including schools, prisons and hospitals.

Nelson is answering de Blasio’s attack on beef with science. He said de Blasio is ignoring climate and nutritional science, and is driving a wedge between urban and rural populations. “As the largest agricultural organization representing the second largest beef producing state, we urge you to reconsider this initiative and help us tell the great story of beef sustainability,” Nelson wrote earlier in June.

Ag producers — and cattle producers in particular — have become the punching bag for environmental activists who link beef consumption with global carbon emissions.

“Unfortunately, one of the most harmful and erroneous myths that exists in public discourse today is that U.S. beef production is destroying the planet,” Nelson said. “The truth, which is backed by peer-reviewed science, is that U.S. beef producers are producing far more beef with fewer inputs and contribute fewer greenhouse gas emissions than what they are blamed for.”

Nelson cites a study in the academic journal, Agricultural Systems, which states beef cattle production accounted for only 3.3 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gases. By comparison, transportation and electricity generation together produced 56 percent.

Compared to 1977, Nelson said, today’s beef producers produce the same amount of beef with 33 percent fewer animals.

De Blasio ought to understand that farmers are the original environmentalists. If farmers fail to protect and conserve resources, they’re out of a job. Nelson says the beef industry has reduced its carbon footprint by 16 percent and reduced water and feed consumption.

We in farm country expect to see continued advancements to produce nutritious beef while respecting the needs of the planet.

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