Defending Beef—The Case for Sustainable Meat Production


This is the best and easiest-to-understand book about why sustainable ranching is necessary for a healthy environment. It is a must-read for every landowner, rancher, wildlife manager, conservationist, wild horse advocate, hunter, wildlifer, and consumer.

Defending Beef—The Case for Sustainable Meat Production. The Manifesto of an Environmental Lawyer and Vegetarian Turned Cattle Rancher

By Nicolette Hahn Niman, Published by Chelsea Green Publishing

Note: This originally appeared in In Practice, Holistic Management International’s (HMI) monthly magazine.  The review was written by Ann Adams, HMI’s Director of Education

December 2014

For those of you who have made a conscious decision to eat or raise sustainably produced grassfed beef, Defending Beef is a book that you can use to help educate others as to why that decision is good for the planet. I’ve read numerous articles and books about the impact of raising beef on the planet or on human health, but this book brings all the critical information into one place. Additionally, this book explains how the negative attitudes towards beef as a food and on cattle as a livestock came to pass. In turn, those stories make you realize just how much journalism, pseudo-science, political agendas, and corporate lobbying can influence such critical areas of our lives like our food system. The book is filled with surprising statistics that refute just about every negative statistic you have heard about the cattle industry at large.


For me, the interesting part of Niman’s story is how she served as senior attorney for the Waterkeeper Alliance, running their campaign to reform concentrated production of livestock and poultry, so she’s done some due diligence on the negative impact that kind of production can cause. She then married Bill Niman, a rancher, and began to explore the value and importance of grassfed livestock. While this may seem like old news to some of us, there are still lots of people out there arguing that concentrated livestock production is the better route to go to make the most of agricultural lands and therefore we should be eating more pork and chicken.

Niman takes this argument to task and she points out how cattle can be used to improve soil health, sequestering carbon and methane so that more climate changing gases are stored in the soil. Likewise, grassfed beef can improve the land base that could not be farmed/cropped and can increase biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and restore grasslands that have been taken over by invasive weeds and shrubs.

While reading Defending Beef can be frustrating at times because the focus is only on cattle, the benefits of all grassfed livestock for both the planet and human health are transferable. Perhaps one of the most interesting statistics for me was how little beef is actually imported into the US from other countries (16%). This was good news for me in that we are actually raising most of our own beef. That means there is more opportunity to create change within this system domestically. As always, the key to that change is an informed consumer base who is actually choosing healthy beef instead of heavily processed food that are being sold as healthy because they are vegetable-based food.

If we ultimately want our food choices to help us be healthy, regenerate the landscape, and provide economic opportunity for those involved in the raising of those animals, then we need to know the truth about that food and the difference that management can make. Defending Beef gives you the full story behind sustainably raised beef and allows the reader to not be pulled off course by the sound bites we are surrounded with in the mainstream media.



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“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”  –  Mark Twain

Ranching, wildlife management, finance, oil & gas, real estate development and management.
  • I got this comment from an attorney friend in Savannah:

    “Dear Christopher,

    Ms. Niman’s book is terrific. Engrossing to a degree that, to use the tired cliché, I couldn’t put it down.

    Her background in both law and biology (and obviously her native smarts) give potency, as well as credence, to her arguments. Her attorney training enables her to make an extremely persuasive case in answer to just about every attack on beef raising, beef eating, the water supply impact (the issue that brought this subject up between us in the first place), the general environmental impact, and more. And this she does in writing that is crystal-clear, logical, even loving (of nature and animals).

    She also does not hide the apparent conflict of interest that comes to mind because of her family’s vested business interest. Of course, as a good lawyer she knows that it is better to preempt an expected issue by bringing it up and then shooting it down, which she does most effectively.

    Aside from its insights–e.g., I had not considered that we have made a contract with the animals–just reading it was a delight that just flowed by. I did think that the second half occasionally was somewhat too repetitive of earlier material, though not badly. Also, that her defense of the ethical issue of eating meat did not adequately address the related concern that eating requires the prior killing of such young animals, regardless of how tenderly they had been cultivated for the first two to three years. That factor may be a greater objection by many vegans and vegetarians than the other concerns so carefully discussed.

    Still, her book does everything very, very well.”

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