Challenging conventional wisdom about cattle and meat with science and data
J. Scott Angle, the former director of the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, provides some examples of how scientists at University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are looking deeper into long-held beliefs about cattle and meat.
One of the jobs of scientists is to challenge conventional wisdom. You don’t want to bet the ranch on something that only seems true. Facts, empirical evidence and data are a more solid foundation for the truth needed to make decisions about the herd.
At the Florida Cattlemen’s Association convention this summer, I spoke at the research and education committee about the importance of challenging conventional wisdom. For two reasons, I believe it’s one of the greatest services that the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) provides its stakeholders—both consumers and producers.
First, challenging conventional wisdom can reveal new insights about how to run a ranch and even correct practices that impede efficiency and productivity. In addition, a scientific challenge to the conventional wisdom can debunk consumers’ falsely held beliefs about what producers do.
Here are three examples of how UF/IFAS agricultural scientists are challenging public perception that passes for conventional wisdom about the cattle industry.
The conventional wisdom around how eating red meat might increase your cardiovascular disease risk has been a matter of debate. Wendy Dahl of the UF/IFAS Food Science and Human Nutrition Department didn’t accept one recently proposed explanation. She found in a study of older women that a well-balanced, high-protein diet with beef for dinner did not increase the metabolite associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk. More research is needed, but her research demonstrates that if we just accept conventional wisdom, we risk missing out on deeper truths.
The conventional wisdom is that cattlemen feeding their animals too many antibiotics is causing all our beef-related anti-microbial resistance problems. Not so fast, says KC Jeong, an animal sciences professor in the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute. Jeong continues to do research that identifies anti-microbial resistance even in herds where barely any antibiotics are used. He investigates how resistance can be a product of the environment, like in the soil and forage, and that management techniques can reduce the prevalence of anti-microbial resistance.
The conventional wisdom is that animal-source foods represent a sustainability problem. Geoff Dahl, no relation to Wendy, and Gbola Adesogan, were honored at our research awards in May for their work in reframing this paradigm. Negative impacts of animal-source foods on planetary heath are overstated, say Dahl and Adesogan. Animal-source foods are a sustainability solution, as they help meet U.N. sustainability goals. Dahl and Adesogan document in their work in Africa and Asia that the introduction of small amounts of animal-source protein into the diets of infants around the world substantially reduces malnutrition that often leads to stunting or worse.
I don’t want to see kids starve because of reliance on conventional wisdom that’s not solidly grounded in evidence. I don’t want consumers blaming ranchers alone for anti-microbial resistance if there are many sources and causes. I don’t even want people to rely on UF/IFAS science if it’s decades old and needs to be validated under today’s conditions.
That’s why we continually strive to update our findings. I appreciate the support for UF/IFAS science that we get from farmers, ranchers, taxpayers and all Floridians. It strengthens our resolve to find truth, even when that search challenges what we believe to be the truth.
Learn more about this science:
Wendy Dahl: https://tinyurl.com/nv95p696 .
KC Jeong: https://tinyurl.com/62c4ra83 .
Gbola Adesogan and Geoff Dahl: https://tinyurl.com/2by78b6t .
Or Ask IFAS at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu .
Editor's note: J. Scott Angle is the former director of the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. He is now the University of Florida’s Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).