Carnivore’s Dilemma…

When I was back in Florida a couple of weeks ago for my grandmother’s funeral, my Godmother asked me if I had read the November issue of National Geographic.  In it is a lengthy article entitled, “Carnivore’s Dilemma” written by scientific journalist Robert Kunzig.  Following her advice, I tracked down a copy of the issue and spent some time last weekend reading it.

I’ll admit that when I first heard that an environmental journalist had written an article in National Geographic magazine highlighting cattle feedyards, I envisioned a pejorative rhetoric belittling the method that my farm uses to complete the final step of traditional beef production.

That is not at all what I found…I found a very balanced article that discusses the complex issue of responsible food production. 

I commend Mr. Kunzig for his detailed personal research as well as bringing an open mind to an often heated debate.  You can read the article by clicking here.  The precursor to the commentary is the author’s fundamental question:


“Is it all right for an American to eat beef?

In an effort to find an accurate answer, Mr. Kunzig spent a week at Wrangler Feedyard near Tulia, Texas. Wrangler Feedyard is one of nine feedlots operated by Cactus Feeders.  This fact immediately caught my attention because I have the privilege of knowing both the co-founder of Cactus Feeders — an older gentleman who hails from Nebraska, Paul Engler, and his son Mike, who now serves as CEO of the company.

Paul Engler reminds me of my grandfather.  Incredibly intelligent, fiercely independent, entrepreneurial  in nature, all enhanced by an incredibly personable and gentlemanly personality.  Although it has been more than a year since I last visited with Paul, a smile comes to my face whenever something makes me think of him.  As my grandfather would say, “he is good people”.  His son, Mike, holds a PhD in biochemistry from Johns Hopkins University, and spent twenty years doing research at Harvard and the University of Texas before coming back home to help run the cattle feeding enterprise.


The author combines his personal experience visiting one of the Engler feedyards with the intellectual and philosophical exercise of exploring modern food production.  He does this by raising many pertinent questions…

  • Is the goal of using technology to produce affordable food admirable or evil?
  • What kind of people are farmers?
  • How can farmers care for animals and then send them to their death?
  • Is it humane for cattle to live in a feedyard setting for the last few months of their lives?
  • Is pharmaceutical use in food animals acceptable?
  • Are feedyards sustainable?
  • How do we meet demand for meat while protecting biodiversity and fighting climate change?

While it is clear that these topics will continue to be debated, Mr. Kunzig leaves his readers with this thought:

“What my reporting had really left me wanting to say no to was antibeef zealotry.  That, and the immoderate penchant we Americans have for reducing complex social problems — diet, public health, climate change, food security — to morality issues populated by heroes and villains.”

2014_10_06_mr_Will Feed-4

I would like to take this opportunity to thank National Geographic, Mr. Kunzig, and all those at Cactus Feeders for coming together to have a respectful, honest discussion. 

I encourage everyone to read Mr. Kunzig’s article as it was intended — with an open mind.  Please feel free to leave questions relative to beef production and feedyards below in the comment section as I am happy to be an additional resource in this discussion.






Filed under CAFO, General

9 responses to “Carnivore’s Dilemma…

  1. lindsaychichester

    Reblogged this on Agri-Cultural with Dr. Lindsay and commented:
    When I read the Carnivore’s Dilemma by National Geographic I was pleased to see that it was fairly written, discussing both sides of meat production. I thought it also did a good job of presenting information about growth promoting hormones, antibiotics, feedlots, humane harvest, and more. I think Anne’s message about the article is spot on and I encourage you to read her blog post.

  2. Katheryn

    A great source information and unbiased reporting!~ Thank you for posting this Anne…

    • Absolutely my pleasure to post, Katheryn. I love it when beef farmers reach out to help tell the story — this is a great example of what can come out of a respectful discussion.

      We will all never fully agree on everything, that would be boring! But, finding common ground and having an honest discussion about the issues is how we all get better. I am just glad that my Godmother gave the push to find the magazine and read the article!


  3. Anne, I totally agree the NatGeo article is an excellent piece of fair, objective, well-researched journalism… something our industry doesn’t get much of these days. Nina Teicholz’s book, The Big Fat Surprise, is another grenade lobbed directly in the middle of junk science and misinformation. Dr. Jude Capper speaks to any group that will listen about the realities of sustainable beef production.

    My perpetual dismay is with our industry’s inability to capitalize on the opportunities that come along oh so seldom. The strength of the NatGeo article and Teicholz’s best seller should get the beef industry a seat on mainstream TV and mass media’s couch, rather than leave our fate in the hands of the likes of Dr. Oz, Michael Pollan and the Food Babe!

    When we have advocates like Mike Rowe, Teicholz and those outside our industry that understand the complexities of getting food on everyone’s table, not just those that can afford niche marketed products, and we can’t capitalize, we’ve missed extraordinary opportunities to be in charge of our own destiny.

    Kudos to you for your commitment to writing the Feedyard Foodie. Here’s to hoping we can continue to depend on those outside our industry to look inside and attempt to understand the amazing process in place every single day to supply the world with safe, nutritious and affordable meat protein. Here’s to hoping someone connects the dots between never having to stand in front of an empty meatcase because there is no beef or pork or poultry, and the efficient production system in place to make sure that NEVER happens.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you, Deb. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. The media is a very difficult “game” to master — much of what is chosen to share is out of our hands. It is so very important that we take a leap of faith and invite others inside of our farms, but what actually gets reported from those efforts are sometimes out of our control. I have done many interviews over the years to then not have anything that I shared make it into the article. To spend time trying to engage and then have nothing that you shared become part of a story is frustrating — which makes this particular article even more special. It is obvious that some common ground was found in the week that Mr. Kunzig spent at Cactus Feeders — obviously there was not across the board agreement, but a relationship was built and thoughts were respectfully shared. That is so very very important.

      I agree that we must keep trying to engage — that is how we will keep meat in the grocery store freezer!


  4. Eugene Story

    Although this particular article in the Geographic was much more fairly written, it was preceded by several months of articles in which consumption of meat in general and beef in particular were treated very unfairly. I would encourage you to read all the recent issues (I believe the first one was May 2014) to get a real feel for the perspective that NG has on the beef industry. We have a lot of bad press to make up for.

    • I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, Eugene. Yes, I am aware that NG’s coverage has not been consistently positive in the past. I believe that one positive article is one more than we had before…

      I have not always been very “friendly” toward NG, so this article provided me with an instance where I could offer the magazine some positive reinforcement. I don’t know how often you read FYF, but a little over a year ago I wrote a blog post chastising NG for their unprofessional actions at a Kansas feed yard. I ended the blog post asking them to engage with farmers and truly learn what goes on at a feed yard. This article clearly does what I asked for — I have no idea if the two are tied together at all, but I felt that I needed to offer positive feedback. You can read the other blog post about the Kansas incident here:

      I believe that balanced feedback is important. If I complain when something is not done well, then I also need to come back with praise when something is done well. With any luck, positive feedback will encourage more accurate articles and fewer inaccurate ones.


      • Eugene Story

        I appreciate your efforts Anne. As I am a subscriber to NG and had read all the previous articles first I have so much steam coming out my ears it will take more than one article to cool it down. Just didn’t want to let your readers think that the industry is actually being treated fairly by NG. We don’t want to let our guard down. I would encourage everyone to read all the articles in this series about feeding our planet so they can realize the amount of bias and misinformation that is being published. “We must all hang together or surely we shall all hang separately!”
        Thanks for listening
        Happy Thanksgiving

  5. I’m going to read this, as I love pieces on the environment and animal agriculture. I will share with you one of my favorite books on this subject written by an environmental vegan who decided if he was going to be so extreme on his decisions they should be founded in research. It’s by Simon Fairlie, called Meat: a benign extravagance. Great book, I’m leaving you the link to buy it on amazon so you have no excuse!

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