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Debunking the mRNA controversy

It’s been said a “lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can tie its tennis shoes.”

In the beef cattle industry, we know all about that. Claims that cow farts are destroying the planet date back to the 2006 United Nations report titled, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which falsified that cattle produce the lion’s share of greenhouse gas emissions.

This bogus claim is a nothing-burger, and it’s been debunked countless times. 

Frank Mitloehner, director of the Clear Center at the UC Davis Department of Animal Science, has long been a champion of clearing the air on cattle and climate change. 

Mitloehner writes, “ According to the EPA, animal ag is responsible for 4% of the United States’ direct greenhouse gas emissions. Of that amount, beef cattle are in for 2.2%. If you want to use the more encompassing cradle-to-grave formula, beef cattle still only account for 3.3% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The dairy sector is responsible for 1.9%.”

Yet, the cow farts myth continues to infiltrate every sector of popular society, including our schools where students are often presented with the guilt-ridden challenge of skipping a burger to save the planet.

From a rancher’s perspective as I view my happy cattle grazing on green grass with clear blue skies painting the horizon, it’s frustrating to say the least. The beef cow is truly an incredible testament to environmental stewardship. She can upcycle grass on marginal range land and convert it into nutrient-dense beef and 100+ life-enriching by-products. 

But, that’s not what this blog is intended for.

Instead, I would like to address another myth that has spread like wild fire on social media in the last couple of weeks. 

It’s the claim that mRNA vaccines are being used on cattle and are tainting our meat supply. When I say that I’ve received hundreds, upon hundreds, of emails and messages on this, it is not an exaggeration.

I have even see labeled beef companies claim their beef is “mRNA-free,” which is a disingenuous marketing claim at best, that is preying on people’s fears and emotions at a time when they have genuine concerns about our beef products. 

So let’s address the elephant in the room, and hopefully, we can alleviate some consumer concerns on this topic.

First and foremost, let me be clear — there are currently zero mRNA vaccines that are licensed for use in beef cattle in the United States. 

All livestock vaccines are licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) following rigorous testing for both safety and efficacy. The USDA has robust post-marketing surveillance for any adverse events caused by on-market vaccines.

What’s more, beef cattle producers work closely with a trusted veterinarian to set up vaccination protocols for their animals. Partnering with veterinarians is important as they are uniquely educated and trained in animal health. Plus, ranchers can create vaccination protocols, in collaboration with their veterinarian, that address specific needs of the cattle and to help them build immunity to prevent disease.

The Missouri Cattlemen's Association adds in a statement, "We vaccinate cattle to treat and prevent many diseases, including respiratory and clostridial disease, to keep them healthy. Regardless of the vaccine technology, the vaccines are ‘digested’ after administered, which means their components are not present in the animal. Because the vaccine is processed well before slaughter and there is no residue remaining, the meat is safe to consume."

All that being said, I want to acknowledge the concerns about mRNA are genuine, and consumers deserve their questions answered. This technology has come into question following the release of mRNA vaccines for COVID-19, and rightfully so, our consumers have ever right to demand transparency, clarity, and real, trusted data on issues they are concerned about.

For those of us in the beef industry, we should take pause and note how this misconception is impacting a large segment of our customer base. These are folks who genuinely love beef and want to eat more of it, but they want to do it with confidence. 

Our consumers deserve clarity in a label, not fear, guilt, misdirection, and half truths. 

And this issue clearly highlights the need for more transparency in our labeling — whether that’s country of origin, natural, organic, grass-fed, etc. This would also apply to new technologies being introduced — whether it’s mRNA vaccines, gene editing, or creating meat in a petri dish.

In our efforts for continual forward progress in agriculture, as we look to implement new technologies, we need to consider the ethical, moral, food safety, animal health, human health, and environmental impacts of our decisions. And most importantly — we need to reassure the general public along the way. They truly love the beef we raise, and in this case, it’s a shame that fear-based marketing tactics have spread as far and wide as they have.

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