Bison: The New Beef

Yellowstown Bison by Rich Flynn, via Flickr

Yellowstone Bison by Rich Flynn, via Flickr

When we talk about climate change we have to talk about impact. “No Impact Man” may try and save the world from his family’s consumption, but with bison we can do much better. Consider the majestic bison (not actually a buffalo by the way, that’s just a misnomer!), gracefully tromping around North America, none the wiser that in the coming years the beast will be back in style. Or at least it would be ideal if bison were to come back in style. As it turns out bison are significantly more eco-friendly than the troublesome cows who, according to expert Henning Steinfeld, “play a critical role in land degradation, climate change, water and biodiversity loss”. How do cows do it? Well for starters cows eat a lot, Steinfeld continues and says, “grazing occupies 26 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial surface, and feed-crop production requires about a third of all arable land”. This fact doesn’t even take into account the CO2 emissions from cow-based human activities as well as methane gas emissions from the cows themselves (Stanford University).

So how are bison different? By looking at a specific area around creeks called the “riparian zone”, we can uncover more about the impact of cows vs. the impact of bison. In simplest terms, researchers compared bison and cows during their respective grazing times. The bison had overwhelmingly less impact on the riparian zone: better habitat condition, better bank stability, better protected vegetation, and a 50% better buffer zone (which is just an area of vegetation that provides food as well as water quality protection from human land use). Furthermore, the cow stream was found to have 10 times more E. coli present than the bison stream which in turn had only slightly more E. coli present than in the control stream. Keep in mind that the bison scored mostly on par with the control stream bank, meaning there’s hardly any impact. With this considered, bison prove to be far better than cows when it comes to erosion and water quality. While this is a very specific example, it just scratches the surface of how much better bison are for the environment. (Marshall University, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies)

Need more convincing? Here’s some info from the USDA:

  • Bison are allowed to roam freely most of their life
  • Bison are not fed grain until about 90-120 days before slaughter
  • Antibiotics and growth hormones are banned for Bison, they are capable of fending off disease in their natural environment in the US
  • Bison contains 1/3rd of the calories beef does
  • Bison contains 1/12th of the fat beef does

If you want to learn more about bison and their world saving powers, here are some links!:

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7 thoughts on “Bison: The New Beef

  1. This is really great information to know. I love bison and would happily trade in steak for bison. It’d be really interesting to see how consumerism could change everything. I’m wondering if we could see a visible change in how our meat industry runs. I would be very happy to see more bison on the shelves in the supermarket.

  2. Bison is a great alternative food source. I think it would be interesting to replace bison with the foods that people already eat everyday day, like bacon, or steak. Though I do wonder if people would be able to give up their favorite meats in favor of bison.

  3. After reading this, I can honestly say I had no idea that Bison was even considered a food source. I mean, I had an idea, but never really thought into it. It is pretty easy to agree that Bison seem way more better as a substitute for cow, considering that a cow stream was found to have 10 times more E. coli present than Bison. That seems pretty important to me. I’d like to see where this could go!

  4. I wonder about the validity of the data, mostly because I do care a lot about this issue. If we were to make the conversion from cow to bison, would all these things still hold true? The cow was built for mass-production, and if the bison had to also feed millions of people, I don’t think a lot of these points would stand. Like, if there were enough bisons to feed as many people as cows do, I think they would also graze a lot more and have a lot more impact on the environment.
    Although some of these points are good and would hold, some of them don’t seem to take into consideration the mass production of cows. Or maybe I’m misunderstanding the research.

  5. I have never thought that Bison can be new beef source for human.. I have never tried Bison food before. Especially, the last information that compared between bison and normal beef is really interesting to me.

  6. First of all, rad title. Just fantastic.

    Second of all, I see why this post has garnered so much attention. I hadn’t really looked into any environmental issues before taking this class, but one thing I have learned is that most people are willing to help but are unaware of the problem. I feel like if this information was more widespread, it is something a large majority of people could get into. Switching from cows to bison isn’t a life altering decision, but the impact it would have on the environment would be very beneficial.

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