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Sides: Beef industry needs to create a more positive image for product

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Deadwood, S.D. – The beef industry needs to do a better job spreading the word about how healthy beef really is and be able to back up their message not only with facts but personal experience. This was the message presented by Gary Sides, a beef cattle nutritionist with Zoetis, who spoke during the Public Lands Council (PLC) Annual Meeting in Deadwood, S.D. on Sept. 4-6. 

“When we go out into the public to promote beef, we have to know our facts and be able to share a personal aspect of why people should eat beef,” Sides said. 

Information gaps

In our current culture, there has never been a point in history that more information is available, but we live in a civilization that is more ignorant than ever about how their food is produced, he said. 

“We have done a horrible job communicating with our current generation about how food is produced,” the nutritionist added. 

There is no course between kindergarten and grade 12 that teaches children how their food is produced or where food comes from. 

In addition, the attention span of the current generation is really short because of the electronic age. 

“We need to be able to explain why we do certain techniques and why it is good for cattle, land and the human diet within 10 seconds, or it will be a hard sell,” he stated. 

Sides told the PLC group that livestock producers do a phenomenal job managing their rangelands, but no one knows about it. 

Public perceptions

“People think beef is bad for the human diet, so they wonder why beef should be allowed to run on public lands,” he said. 

The public has been told that environmentally, beef causes global warming, carbon dioxide and methane. They have also been told that producers treat their animals terribly and use hormones and antibiotics that are unsafe for humans and that beef causes food poisoning. 

If, after all that, they still choose to eat beef, consumers purchase natural or organic over conventional, he stated. 

“I’m amazed that people eat beef at all, as bad as the publicity is,” Sides added. “Simple lies are more palatable than complex truths. There are people out there with an agenda. Do we ever hear anything bad about produce like fruits and vegetables? It’s interesting because half of all food-borne illnesses come from fruits and vegetables.” 

Dietary guidelines

Sides also alluded to the bad rap salt has taken for the last 50 years. 

“When older people have high blood pressure, the first thing the doctor always tells them to do is to cut their salt intake, but the levels they recommend are totally unworkable,” Sides explained. “The only thing they could have to stay within the guidelines recommended are fruit juices.”

Last month, Sides said the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) didn’t apologize for the mistake in unreasonably low salt recommendations, but they did come out with a new recommended guideline for salt at 3,000 to 7,000 milligrams of per day. 

“If CDC is now telling us that it is okay to eat salt, I still have hope that they will say to eat beef one of these days,” he said. 

Still, dietary guidelines recommend people cut their sodium, eat fiber and take a vitamin B12 supplement. 

“Did we know that beef is the best source of Vitamin B12 in the diet?” he asked. 

Also, the ruminant has microorganisms to digest fiber to make muscle and protein, but a human cannot digest fiber. It has no nutritional value, he explained. 

Beef has all 20 of the essential amino acids required in the diet, and it is the best source of iron. Between 50 and 75 percent of all women have an iron deficiency, he explained.

The fat problem

The big problem with beef has come from advertising beef as lean, making the public think fat is bad, Sides said. 

“We have chosen not to defend fat, so we have given up the war with our paid advertisements,” he said. “Fat is a four letter word in our industry and for people that eat beef. We think we shouldn’t eat any fat at all. Vitamins A, D and E are all fat soluble vitamins, so is fat really bad for you?”

“What does science actually say about the fat found in red meat?” he continued. “It has 30 percent stearic acid and 40 percent oleic acid, which lowers fatty acids, LDLs and triglycerides.”

“That fat in beef is actually heart-healthy. Science has said that for years, but we’re afraid to say that,” he said. 

Nutrition issues

Sides said consumers need to understand it is not the total number of calories they eat that makes them gain weight but the source of the calories. Refined carbohydrates, like high fructose corn syrup, sugar, refined flour and white rice, increase insulin levels and can cause heart disease and obesity, he added. 

Sides looked to the diets of starving children in other parts of the world. 

“Kids need fat,” he stated. “Yet, when you see the United Nations trucks dropping off food to those starving children, have you ever noticed what they are unloading. It is white rice, white flour and sugar.”

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments and questions on this article to

Beef viewpoints

Gary Sides, beef cattle nutritionist for Zoetis, said he thinks there is opposition to cattle because the public doesn’t see them as a necessary part of the diet.

Although environmentalists have led the public to believe cattle contribute 18 percent to the greenhouse gases, that report was proven false a number of years ago. Cattle actually contribute less than three percent of greenhouse gases. 

Sides said despite the report being proven false by the United Nations, the USDA used its information a year ago to promote “Meatless Mondays” in the school system. 

Sides asked the Public Lands Council group he presented to if they knew what percentage of carbon dioxide was actually in the atmosphere, before revealing it is only 0.038 percent. 

“All models that exploit global climate change have been wrong,” he said. 

On another note, Sides said most consumers fail to realize that practically all beef they purchase in the grocery store is grass-fed. 

“Cattle spend half to two-thirds of their lives on grass,” he said. “They are only placed in a feedlot the last 100 to 120 days of their growth because we can’t get enough energy out of the grass for the fat stage of their growth.” 

He explained, “The grass and feedlot combined produces the most efficient animal with the smallest carbon footprint.”


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