Busting Myths on Climate Change
Transcript of the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 79.
Bradie S. Crandall busts myths on climate change,
cattle farming, organic crops, & GMOs
Karina: You're listening to the No Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 79. We have a returning guest today. Bradie S. Crandall is here to discuss how the foods we eat affect climate change and why being vegan fights climate change. He's going to shed some light on animal agriculture, cattle in particular, including some major myth busting about grass fed free range beef. As if that wasn't enough, he is going to discuss advantages and disadvantages of GMO foods and he'll challenge the idea that organic produce is always better for the environment than conventionally grown produce.
Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina, your go-to no BS, vegan fitness and nutrition coach. As you just heard in our intro, we have a jam-packed episode for you today. So I'm just going to quickly remind you that my e-book on fueling your fitness on a vegan diet “Sprouted Gains” is currently on sale at Sproutedgains.com. The regular price is $39 and it is currently on sale for $19. So get your hands on that at Sproutedgains.com.
I want to jump right into our incredible guest for today, Bradie S. Crandall. Bradie is a state record holding vegan powerlifter and former collegiate football player who holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of South Carolina. He is currently a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering PhD student at the University of Delaware. Recently, he published his first book, “The Living Machine: Engineering Strength with a Plant-Based Diet”, which debuted as one of the top 20 new nutrition books on Amazon. Bradie's favorite vegan meal by the way is a high protein stir-fry with fried tofu.
Hey Bradie, thank you so much for coming on the show again.
Bradie: Hi Karina, happy to be invited back.
Karina: I feel like we could do a total series on all of your areas of expertise. Congrats on your book. So the last time we chatted, it was not out yet and it came out recently. It's doing really well. So congrats. That's super exciting!
Bradie: I'm pretty pleased with it.
Karina: That's awesome. So for our listeners who might not know, and I'm going to direct our listeners to our first episode with you explaining your story and your background. Everyone should listen to that for sure and I'll link to it in our show notes, but for people who are new to the show or new to you, can you give us a really quick rundown of who Bradie is, and maybe a little bit about what you're studying and your area of expertise?
Bradie: Yeah, so as you already said, I have a Bachelor's in Chemical Engineering from the University of South Carolina. I don't think most people quite grasp what a Chemical Engineer is, but we basically do chemistry, but on a large scale and my focus area deals with chemical emissions. So I've done a lot of work trying to reduce C02 emissions, methane emissions, sulfur emissions, and very chemical processes. I do a lot of work looking at how that relates to the climate and how we can take what we're doing in a laboratory there at a national lab or university, and bring that over to DC and integrate some policy work into addressing these issues.
Karina: That's amazing. So you're doing a PhD program currently?
Bradie: Yeah. I'm working on my PhD in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware.
Karina: I think my brain is going to explode, just trying to grasp all of the types of work that you are doing!
Bradie: It does sound like a lot!
Karina: That's awesome. Well, it is directly related to the topics we're going to talk about today. I feel like we've got a lot to go through, so why don't we just dive right in? So you have prepared some very important speaking points. We're going to talk about climate change, how veganism relates to climate change. We're going to talk about cattle specifically about contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. And then we're going to talk about a subject that comes up a lot, which is GMO and organic agriculture. So pros, cons things people might not have thought about before. So let's dive into the first area, which is climate change and veganism. So what do you have for us here?
Bradie: I want to preface this by stating that unfortunately, individual action is never really going to be enough to mitigate climate change completely, but it's a very good place to start. Individual actions like going vegan, can lead to collective action, which do make a big impact on climate change. It's important to get that point across because corporations have been very successful at convincing people, essentially as citizens, that it's their individual actions that have created this crisis and that's simply not the case. So when it does come to individual actions which can be very empowering, I find that veganism along with voting is probably the single greatest action that can be taken to reduce emissions. That's because agriculture specifically plays such a large role in the emissions and the climate. Looking at the numbers here, it’s about as much as the transportation sector, which is 30% approximately of the emissions that are resulting in climate change. That number is actually very difficult to measure, so that's why I say like close to the transportation sector, because if you think about how you even go about accounting for all the emissions associated with animal agriculture, that's a really difficult number to pin down.
Karina: That's a good point. So why is that? Is that because there's so many different areas, like you got to factor in the animals themselves and the transportation and their feed and probably a bunch of other things I'm missing?
Bradie: Yeah. So even if you look at the most basic level, you have to figure out how much methane is coming out of a single cow. That's not an easy thing to do. Then you have to figure out how many cows we actually have. That's another difficult number. Then you have to account for all the emissions associated with taking care of these animals and their feed and everything that surrounds the animal agriculture industry. There's emissions associated with it. So accounting for all these is very difficult.
Karina: Good point. Can we back up one second? I really like what you said about individual versus collective and larger scale actions. Why is it important to address climate change in the first place?
Bradie: That’s a really good question. It's easy for me to sit here and tell people, Oh, down the road, your kids are going to have to deal with this thing called climate change. It's going to be horrible, but we're already looking at some of the consequences of climate change today. So just the other day, we had a huge hurricane hit Louisiana where my family lives. Not just one hurricane, we had two back to back within a span of a few days. On top of that, we have the second and third largest wildfire simultaneously happening in California and it’s still happening today. So the idea that climate change is something down the road isn't really the best way to think about this anymore. It's here. So if people want to address climate change, if you're not willing to address it for future generations, hopefully you're at least willing to address it for you.
Karina: A hundred percent. That's a good way of putting it. It’s basically affecting everything. I was reading an article actually just this morning, and we'll get to this later when we talk about organic and farming and stuff. But just this morning, I was reading a piece on the National Observer here in Canada about corn and soybean farming and how climate change has been affecting those farmers, the lack of water in California, different climates that they're used to, different growing periods. This is affecting everything.
Bradie: Yeah. It doesn't matter where you live, you're going to be impacted by climate change. No doubt.
Karina: Okay. So you were touching on an individual action that we can take and that is effective and that is going vegan. So what else do you have for us in that?
Bradie: Are you familiar with the IPCC agreement. The Paris agreement?
Karina: Maybe you can give us a rundown?
Bradie: So a few years ago, the United Nations put together this huge panel of the best climate scientists in the world and figured out that if we're going to go into avoid the most disastrous and most irreversible consequences of climate change, we need to keep the warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. So then, almost every nation got together and signed this agreement saying, okay, we're going to do what we can to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius which was voluntary agreement that the US has now pulled out of for whatever reason. Just to briefly touch on that, we're only unofficially pulled out. We can't officially pull out until November. I believe at that point on paper, we can really pull out, but it's a voluntary agreement, so if you say you're out, you're out.
So where I'm going with this is that the IPCC has laid out these pathways that we need to approach if we're going to Stay below at 1.5 degrees Celsius. By the way, we've already hit just over one degrees Celsius. So we're creeping up on it pretty quickly here. There was a study that came out in 2017 that basically said, what would happen if everybody in the world, instead of eating beef, ate beans. Everyone else is still eating chicken, milk and all that, but what if just beef was replaced with beans? They found that you can get more than halfway there to where we need to be as dictated by the IPCC to avoid that 1.5 degrees Celsius forming. It gets us halfway there just eating beans instead of beef. That's half of what we need to do. So like I said, that's still not going to get us all the way there and asking everyone to eat beans instead of beef in the entire world is that's not an easy thing to do, but that would get us halfway to where we need to be in order to avoid the most disastrous and irreversible consequences of climate change.
Karina: Wow. Well, if nothing else, that at least shows us that individual actions on a large enough scale can have an effect.
Bradie: Yeah. That's why, there's almost this blurry line between the individual and collective action, because at some level you need individual actions to lead to that collective action, right? There's not one without the other. So this leads me into my next topic, which I'm going to talk about, how cattle is really the primary contributor to animal agriculture emissions.
Karina: So is this why people always mention beef as kind of the first go-to thing when they talk about climate change and how horrible animal agriculture is for the planet?
Bradie: Yes, but I'm going to lump beef and dairy together and just say cattle, because these two industries are really difficult to pull apart. I think we can all figure out what happens to dairy cows when they stopped producing milk or their male calves.
Karina: People actually, like a lot of vegetarians, don't actually really grasp the connection. If you consume dairy, you are supporting directly or indirectly the veal industry. Why do you think these cattle are lactating? They had their babies taken away from them. So yes, you have a good point that they there are all inter related. So you're going to talk about cattle in general?
Bradie: Yes, and not to hit on vegetarians because they're doing more than most, but I've often heard the phrase, the vegetarians are just uneducated vegans, which has some truth to it.
Karina: I can agree with that. I was vegetarian/an uneducated vegan!
Bradie: I started as a vegetarian. Most people probably start vegetarian honestly. Few people jump right in. So back to the cattle. When we are dealing with cattle, we are looking primarily at methane emissions, not CO2 emissions and it's important to draw that distinction because methane emissions are about 30 times more powerful than CO2 emissions.
Karina: Wow. So like for the same amount?
Bradie: Yeah. So if you had, one molecule methane and one molecule CO2, that one molecule methane is going to produce 30 times more warming than the CO2.
Bradie: So estimates vary a little bit like between 25 to 35. It's somewhere within that range. So usually, just say 30, because again, that's kind of a hard number to get, but we know methane for sure is a much more powerful greenhouse gas. The science behind that, not to go too deep into this, is a little complex, but essentially all that boils down to is because methane occupies a different part of the spectrum than CO2 the electromagnetic spectrum, there's already so much CO2 in the atmosphere that it still a difference when you add more, but there really isn't that much methane up there. So if you had just a little bit of methane, it makes a big difference because you're going from zero to a hundred and the climate does not like that because it's not used to having methane up there basically. But it's used to having a little bit of CO2, just not a lot, that's kind of the best way to put it. One cow produces enough methane per year to do the same greenhouse damage as four tons of CO2. The reason cows produce methane is because they're ruminants. So me and you, we don't produce that much methane, not in the same way, cows do.
Karina: Maybe after like taco night, but even then….
Bradie: Our digestive systems are much different than cows. Cows have four stomachs and they are ruminants. So the way they digest grass or corn or whatever they're fed is when their stomach enzymes break it down in a different way than our stomach enzymes do. It produces methane as a by-product and that methane, this is a common misconception, most of it is coming out of the front end of the cow than off the back end.
Karina: Oh, so it's not cow farts where we're talking about here?
Bradie: No. 95% of the methane produced by cattle is coming out as cow burps really!
Karina: Okay. I learn something new every day!
Bradie: A lot of people get that wrong, even the scientists sometimes get that wrong, but 95% of it is coming out of the front. So, like I said, one cow produces enough methane to do the same greenhouse damage as four tons of CO2. There are about 1.5 billion cows on the entire planet currently, so you can see how this scales up very quickly. As you know, we see some of these developing nations, as their GDP grows, they are going to want to afford the same “luxurious” that the developed world has, and their meat and beef consumption is expected to increase. So this number is only going to grow.
Karina: Interesting. So what you're talking about is just the cow itself right now. So not necessarily the methane produced in processing the cow later down the road or the food at eats, it's literally just the cow.
Bradie: It's just the fact that so many cows exist is what's causing most of the damage. Just existing and living is what is causing so much damage. And these aren't naturally existing cows you see on TV, the dairy cows and beef cows they don't live out in the wild. We bred them to be this way so they are not part of a natural ecological system. We have so many of them, I think it's going to be difficult to actually get rid of all of them, but even if they somehow did go extinct, it's not going to impact the ecological cycles and things like that greatly because we brought them into existence.
Karina: I think the same could be said for a lot of animals that people eat, hey?
Bradie: That's true. Most of what we consider farm animals have been bred into existence. They don't exist naturally in the wild. At one point they did, but not in the way that we've bred them now.
Karina: Right. So what about the whole concept of free range, grass fed? To me as a vegan, a lot of these things sound like marketing terms, but I want to know if there's actually some legit science behind this or if it's just bullshit. So what's the deal? Maybe you can do some myth busting for us around free range or grass fed or both of those things?
Bradie: So free range, grass fed cattle is an idea that's been around for a while, but it's built new steam recently as people become more concerned with their environmental impact and we are starting to see the impact of beef. There is this idea that grass fed beef could be considered sustainable. For me, this is analogous to the concept of clean coal. What you're really trying to do is polish a turd essentially. So there's only so much you can do. You'll hear people like Joe Rogan talk The White Oak Pastures, which is a farm who puts a lot of misleading research out on this. They've led a lot of people to believe that if you raise the cows right, these free range, breastfed cattle, that they'll be able to actually reduce emissions. The research just isn't really showing that. They're producing a lot of industry funded research, which one or two studies they've put out at this point and they're not really well-respected studies.
Karina: So can you go into a little more detail here? I personally have had many conversations/debates with people. I live in a very small town where a lot of people farm, people grow their own food and also a town that has a really large for its size vegan population, interestingly enough. So I've been having conversations with people around having two cows on their farm. Is it bad for the climate or is it better than a factory farm type situation? So what's the myth? Why do people think that having so-called free range, grass fed beef could be better for the environment? Sometimes people have the argument that it might actually be a net positive. What's the myth there and why is that not true?
Bradie: The claim they're making is that you can reduce carbon emissions via soil carbon sequestration. So they they're claiming that if you have grass fed, free range beef, that their manure will help promote enough plant life, that you'll be able to store some of the CO2 that the plants suck out of the atmosphere. The problem is, as I've explained, methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. So although there might be some truth that the manure is going to stimulate plant life and that reduces the CO2, the cows are producing a ton of methane, which is much more powerful than the CO2 that's being removed.
Karina: Okay. That makes sense. So tying in again, 30 times more negative effect than CO2.
Bradie: Yeah. So methane is 30 times worse in terms of greenhouse gas warming potential than CO2.
Karina: Okay. So that would be a huge reason then why those so-called studies would be flawed if they're just looking at CO2.
Bradie: Right. And they actually don't just look at CO2 to be fair. They are looking at the methane, but they're playing with the numbers a little bit and unreasonable way. The way we know this is there was a group called the “Food Climate Research Network”, which is an independent group out of Oxford that partnered with some other Universities. They did a huge meta analysis and looked at this issue of “is free range, grass fed beef, carbon neutral, is it carbon negative? What's going on there?” They looked at all of the studies and it was interesting. The only studies that showed you could have a net negative change in carbon emissions, as a result of this farming technique, was White Oak Pastures. They were the only study that showed this.
Karina: So what's the deal there? Why was that the only one?
Bradie: Well that's because they're an industry, right? They are producing free range, grass fed beef, and they are doing research on free range, grass fed beef. So they want to portray it in a positive manner. So that's what's going on there. But when you look at the meta analysis, which is taking all the research out there, they found on average that free range, grass fed beef is a net positive limiter and even the best case scenario. So even if you give the benefit of the doubt and all the factors, when looking at free range, grass fed beef, it's still a positive. So it's still contributing in climate change. It's not helping the problem.
Karina: Right. And just to clarify, because I had a half second of confusion, net positive is net positive emissions? Which is a net negative effect for the planet?
Bradie: Yes. That can be confusing. I see that now. When I say net positive, I'm talking about the emissions being positive. So plus x amount of emissions, which is a negative thing but the emissions are going up.
Karina: That makes total sense. So you linked me to this ad, that Burger King came out with, and that fricking song got stuck in my head for like 24 hours. So thanks for that Bradie! It's a relatively new ad and something they're doing is that they're acknowledging that they're part of the problem when it comes to beef and admissions, et cetera. I guess that's a step in the right direction, but the whole video, it's basically a song about cow farts. I'll link it in our show notes maybe. Do I want more people watching it? Maybe I do.
Bradie: I don't know if you caught this but that's not just any kid that was yodeling. It’s the kid from the Walmart video from a year ago.
Karina: Right. Yodeling kid. He is doing like a Country/Yodel type song.
Bradie: It's great marketing. I have to admit that. I really appreciate the sentiment of acknowledging that beef is contributing to climate change and we should do something about this. I think that it was pretty good scientific communication over all. The issue I take with it is that it is a little misleading and it is a little bit greenwashing. So greenwashing is basically when a business like Exxon will put out all this information trying to show that they're clean and reducing emissions and they're sustainable and really on the backend, they're doing a lot of damage to the environment.
Karina: Right. So greenwashing is basically like a marketing ploy where really it's in the best interest of the company to put out this image. It's not actually legitimate research necessarily.
Bradie: Yeah. Trying to convince the public that they're doing good when they're not.
Karina: Okay. So why is it greenwashing then? What's your issue with it?
Bradie: So first off, they did falsely portray cows as producing most of the methane emissions, and that's wrong. That's a nitpicky thing though. Their claim is that lemongrass can methane emissions by over a third. It's the claim they're making based on research which they did. It's a little bit overestimating, probably how much can actually be reduced. But the problem is the only time you can actually feed a cow lemongrass is in the final stage of finishing the cow. So cows spend most of their life on the average factory farm in a pasture, completely fenced in, and then towards the end of their life, they're brought to a feed lot. And that's when you can actually feed them the lemongrass that's reducing these emissions.
Karina: So why can't you feed them that before?
Bradie: Because you can't just grow a field of lemongrass, unfortunately. So there's taking a little bit of lemongrass and mixing in there predominantly corn feed and that's only at the very, very end before they're slaughtered. So over the entire cows lifetime, you really only end up reducing the methane emissions using this technique by around 5% at best. So the claim that they are reducing emissions by over a third is a little misleading because of that, but I will still say reducing emissions by 5% for a company like Burger King that is responsible for a massive amount of greenhouse gas emissions as a result of catalyst, it's still better than nothing. Their ad is a little misleading and that's the issue.
Karina: Well, so other than the misleading part, what do you think large corporations like Burger King or here in Canada, we have A&W and they are huge on Beyond Burgers actually, but what should these giant corporations be doing that would be more effective? I mean, obviously not having beef at all, but that's not really realistic, but what could they do?
Bradie: With Burger King, they could have easily taken this whole ad and instead of promoting beef burgers they could have just promoted their Impossible Whopper and still talked about the climate change stuff. They could have done the same ad and just said, buy our Impossible Whopper. That's what they should have done in my opinion, because the Impossible Whopper essentially reduce the emissions by a hundred percent. You still have to transport the burger to Burger King and there's some emissions associated there, but it's nothing in comparison to raising a cow.
Karina: Yeah. And then of course, you've got the methane versus CO2 issue again and the differences there. So of course. So companies like Burger King and A&W, I actually have not been keeping up at all with what McDonald's is doing because they're so far behind it seems, but I think they have plant-based things, right?
Bradie: They had a plan at one point to partner with Beyond in the US. They did a trial of it, I forget in which country, but at this point, they said they are not planning to expand it. We will see if that changes down the line. I was kind of looking forward to that but it's not happening anytime soon, unfortunately.
Karina: That's unfortunate because something on that kind of a scale would really make a difference. Wouldn't it?
Bradie: Yeah. It would make a huge difference. Just having it on their menu would make a huge difference because they have a larger market share than Burger King, even though Burger King has made big leaps and bounds just with their Impossible Whopper because that's such a niche thing. In comparison to Wendy's and McDonald's, they are the only one that offers that. So if we have a group of people in the car that want to go through the drive through, and one of them happens to be vegan or a vegetarian you're going to Burger King.
Bradie: That's lost business for McDonald's and Wendy's.
Karina: Absolutely. I was just going to say, on the business side, it’s a pretty smart move. I heard something, I don't remember what the stats were but it was like 10% or a huge chunk of overall increased sales for A&W here last year or the year before, just because of the Beyond Burger. That's huge!
Bradie: That’s incredible. I've been looking a little bit at the numbers of the plant-based meats and they've been doing really well, especially during the pandemic, because of meat shortages, so I know that Beyond has specifically taken advantage of this moment and they're basically trying to undercut the price of beef and have said that as soon as possible they're going to make their products cheaper than actual meat.
Karina: Also they've quite obviously said that their target market is not people who are vegan or vegetarian.
Bradie: Exactly. Many lifelong Vegans are off put because it's too similar to meat, but people that are vegan-curious are more interested in this kind of thing.
Karina: Well, and I think people who know a little bit about animal agriculture, climate change, the environment, they are trying these plant-based options for specifically the environmental reason I think.
Bradie: Yeah, exactly. They really are and I've seen it firsthand.
Karina: So what else, if anything, did you have for us on the cattle topic before we move to our next topic?
Bradie: I think I've pretty much covered it there. You know, cattle is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and animal agriculture. The last thing I want to say is if you aren't vegan currently, just adopting something like a Mediterranean diet is going to greatly reduce your emissions almost as much as going vegan, just because it removes the red meat from your diet. So you can get very close to the benefits just by going to a Mediterranean diet as you've already cut out a huge chunk of your emissions.
Karina: That's huge. That's something people can do right now if they haven't already. Awesome. Well that is super enlightening and definitely some things people are going to hopefully think about if they are not plant-based already.
So let's go into our next topic. I know we could do a full podcast series on this topic, but I want to get your thoughts. Some of the research around the debate on organic agriculture and GMOs, are they positive? Are they negative? Are they both at the same time? So why don't I just open the floor and you can take it from here.
Bradie: So the organic GMO debate is something I've changed my mind on over the past few years. I think that in order to constantly get as close to the truth as you can, people have to be willing to change their minds on some things. So I just want to preface this with that. On your podcast a few weeks ago Dr. Schwartz encouraged people to eat organic and although I agree with 99% of what he said, I think I take a little bit of issue with directly trying to encourage people to eat organic for the benefit of the environment. There might be other reasons, but specifically for environmental benefit. I would challenge that a little bit. I think before we even talk about this, we have to define what organic really means because most people really don't know.
Karina: Good point, let's do that then.
Bradie: The literal definition of organic is basically something that's derived from life. So some type of chemical or compound that's near life, or it was produced by something that was alive. That's chemically what organic means. So by that definition, something like cyanide is organic, right? So for food specifically in the US when we say organic, we typically mean that it's non-GMO and it's treated with pesticides that are. The USDA organic label means that 70% of what you're eating is organic and has used 70% pesticides. So it's not even completely organic necessarily, but it's 70% there.
Karina: Hmm. Okay.
Bradie: So that's the USDA label and so the question is then is, is non-GMO and using organic pesticides actually better for the environment? That's what we typically define as organic, right? Non-GMO and organic pesticides. There's a few other things like the soil treatment and stuff that goes into it, but primarily when people say organic, they're talking about non-GMO and organic pesticides. GMOs are genetically modified organisms, so that's when scientists go in and they use the DNA to make crops more efficient. Therefore, farmers can produce them more efficiently. So instead of over multiple generations breeding a crop a certain way that can go in an instant and select the gene they want and breed it. So it's a way to speed up breeding practices, essentially. So the myth that I want to talk about is the idea that we're organic pesticides are better than synthetic pesticides.
Karina: Right. I think it's also potentially important to keep in mind that all agriculture, like Dr. Schwartz said uses pesticides. So it's not like we're talking about any sort of growing operation that doesn't use any pesticides at all. Right?
Bradie: Yeah, unless you have a garden in your backyard, but that's not really what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the produce you get from a store: agriculture on a large scale. So you're either using organic pesticides or synthetic pesticides. So are organic pesticides actually better than synthetic? So if you look at organic pesticides, they can be every bit as harmful ecologically and for your health as synthetic pesticides. That's what the studies have shown. Part of that is because organic pesticides aren't as effective as the synthetic pesticides. So you have to apply a lot more pesticide overall growing organic crops. You just have to use more of it and that can lead to a lot of issues with pesticide runoff and things like that. So although they might be organic you may think, Oh, they must be better because they're organic pesticides, I think marketing has convinced people that organic is synonymous with better.
Karina: Yeah, it's kind of like “natural”: using that term as a marketing tool.
Bradie: That's a good way to put it too. I'm just trying to make the case that that's not necessarily always true. This is a very case by case basis. Over all, organic pesticides can be just as bad as the synthetic pesticides.
Karina: So this is relating to humans consuming residue of those pesticides on organic crops that they're buying in the store.
Bradie: Yeah. So toxicity in terms of toxicity to humans and how it is harmfully ecologically. So environmentally and for health. The second myth I want to get at is the idea that non-GMO is better than two genetically modified organisms. So GMOs have been introduced into crops because they improve crop yields, increase nutrient value, and they can reduce the use of pesticides. Not always, but certain GMOs you can actually reduce pesticide use. An example of this is the BT toxin. So this is a protein that we've introduced into corn, cotton, potato, tobacco, essentially any corn you're eating in the US is most likely GMO corn. This sounds scary, but it's a protein and it's harmless to humans, but it acts as a pesticide. So now, instead of having to spray the crop on the outside, you can just introduce a toxin that's harmless to humans, but will fend off pests directly in the genes of this crop so you don't have to spray, but organic crops are genetically modified this way because they're not GMO, so you have to spray them.
Karina: That's a really interesting point. I think also, there's a lot of negativity or just a gut reaction, knee jerk reaction, whatever you want to call it to GMO, because they're so tied in with large scale corporations, like Monsanto, for example. We can have major ethical issues with something like that, but that doesn't mean that all GMOs are horrible.
Bradie: Yeah. Monsanto has given a very bad name to GMOs because they've been a bad actor in the past and they've produced the general public to essentially be skeptical of the science and have created a lot of fear-mongering amongst, like “Franken Foods” is what a lot of times people call GMOs. When in reality, GMOs have been proven to be safe for health generally, and they can reduce pesticide use. It can be a very positive thing, but I do want to say that there are good and bad GMOs in my opinion. So one way to use GMOs is so you don't have to spray and introduce a protein that acts as a pesticide within the plant. Another thing we do with GMOs is that we just make them more resistant to the pesticides and herbicides so we can spray them more and that's not a good thing for the environment but that's not a good thing for health
Karina: Making the plant more resistant to the pesticide itself so that you can just pile it on.
Bradie: Right? When you can spray it more plant too much, typically it dies. It can only handle so much pesticide. You can make the plant more resistant. You can spray as much as you want and it doesn't die. That's a negative thing for our health and for the environment. So the point I'm trying to make is there are good and bad GMOs, but you can't make a blanket statement saying, Oh, GMOs are bad or all GMOs are good. You’re talking about the genetic profile of these plants. You can use that for positive or you can use that for negative. It's a technology and like any technology, there are ups and downs with it, depending on how you use it.
Karina: I think in the vegan community specifically, there is a lot of black and white thinking, honestly much as I hate to say it, like all GMOs are bad. All conventionally grown crops are bad. You have to eat organic if you want to be the healthiest person possible. It's never taken into account what the context is. I think the same can be said for a lot of things in nutrition and fitness, it's never black and white. So, the first myth that you had was around pesticides. So organic crops still require pesticides. They're still involved. The question is, of course, how does that affect the environment? How does it affect humans? It's not necessarily a better situation than conventional crops. The second myth was around GMOs. So again, like you said, pros and cons, some of them are great. Some of them, especially the ones that you mentioned, that make plants more resistant to the actual pesticides are probably not the greatest. So what else have you got?
Bradie: The third myth I want to bust here is that the idea that organic can help mitigate climate change and that ties into these other two I've discussed, but organic crops, unfortunately significantly increase land usage, which leads to more climate change. So the more land you use, you're releasing CO2 that used to be trapped in the soil, up into the air. When you increase land usage, the crops are more spread out, so now, you have to drive that tractor a lot further over hundreds of acres, and that's burning more gasoline and more diesel and putting more emissions into the air. The reason there is increased land usage is because they haven't been genetically modified to be more efficient and use less nutrients and less resources to grow because that's ultimately the goal of GMOs is to grow crops more efficiently, use less resources as possible and spend the least amount of money possible to get this product to market.
Karina: Right. Okay. So I'm curious from a farmer's perspective, what's the advantage of organic agriculture?
Bradie: That's a good question. You know, I came prepared to primarily talk about the negatives, but I'm not going to deny that there are positives. There are certain organic crops that are more nutrient dense, but that's not always the case. This is a very case-by-case basis thing. So if you're growing a garden in your yard and you're trying to figure out, “do I want to use organic seeds or do I want to use the GMO seeds? You might have to do some research, because sometimes the GMO seeds are just designed to make the plant bigger, but that doesn't necessarily make it more nutrient dense. It's just adding more, usually carbs to it and not actually allowing it to absorb more micronutrients like iron and vitamins and things like that. So it gets very complicated and it's a case by case basis thing.
Karina: So the like I guess the organic label itself can be seen as a marketing term because organic produce is always more expensive than conventionally grown produce?
Bradie: Yeah. That's kind of where I started to take issue with I don't care if people eat organic or not. Personally, it's not making that big of a difference environmentally. If you're a vegan and you're fighting over organic or not organic, it's not that big of a deal. You're already vegan. Relax. Your job is mostly done. It doesn't matter that much to me, whether it's organic or not. The problem I have is encouraging people to buy the more expensive product because not everyone can afford that. It’s inducing a cost on them that they may or may not be able to afford.
Karina: Right. So this is where the marketing comes in. It's where we've been told that organic is always no matter what, more nutrient dense, it's always better for the planet, it's always better for us.
Bradie: Yeah. It's marketed as premium produce. But in reality, the only reason it costs more is because it's less efficient to produce and you have to put more resources into these products typically to grow them. So it's more water, more energy, and that's where the cost is coming from.
Karina: Right. I'm still curious, what's in it for the farmers growing the food?
Bradie: Ultimately they're getting a good return on their investments, whether they're growing organic or not organic, I mean, everyone's going to fill their niche basically. As long as there's demand for organic, farmers are going to grow it. Not everybody is taking a very deep dive and they typically just watch a documentary or something and then decide, Oh, I want eat organic now or I'm pro GMO, anti GMO, or whatever.
Karina: That's a good point. I hear about a lot of operations that are really small scale. In my town, we have lots of family farms and people growing on a small scale who are technically organic, but they don't, or they can't use the label because they don't want to shell out to have the certification.
Bradie: Right. Yeah. I'm sure it costs money to get certified by the USDA. I'm sure it's a big money-maker for them.
Karina: Yeah. So issue that you had with what Dr. Schwartz was saying was that basically what we're talking about is like it's not black and white and there are cases where organic may actually be worse for the planet?
Bradie: Yeah. I'm not taking a big issue with what you're saying. I'm just trying to have an academic discussion essentially on whether or not organic or non GMO is actually better for the environment or not. And I would say generally, it's not the case that it's better for the environment and it may actually be worse for the environment. The land usage is really the big one where it's clear across the board that when you grow organic crops they increase land usage. We don't have much more land to grow these crops on. So if we want more land to grow everything organic, we’ve got to start chopping down forests.
Karina: That's a fair point. And also just for people who are not vegan, because I think most vegan people know, but around 80% of crops like soybean and corn are being fed to animals, not humans.
Bradie: Yeah. I think Dr. Schwartz did a really good job touching on this, but the idea of this 10% rule, which is ubiquitous and environmental science, has been laid out pretty well. The idea that for every one calorie you get out of a cow, you have to feed 10 times as many calories into it, so you might as well just eat the plants you're feeding it because you can get so much more calories out of that. You're losing so much more energy by going up the food chain, you're losing 90% of it.
Karina: Yeah. You know, that was an interesting concept of calories. I haven't really thought about it that way specifically before, but you're absolutely right. I think that is probably in your field. Something people just know as truth.
Bradie: Yeah. I mean, from an engineering perspective, that's a big efficiency issue. So it makes a lot more sense instead of investing all these resources to grow these crops to feed a cow, why don't we just eat the crops? Then we can grow less crops.
Karina: Yeah, absolutely. So a question for you then as somebody who is not in the field and I'm sure 99.9% of our listeners are also not high level, PhD research engineer types, where can we go to find out about this stuff? You mentioned sometimes people just watch a documentary and they are like, well, I guess I'm just eating organic foods now. What steps should we take as everyday non-academics to inform ourselves about these topics?
Bradie: That's a really good question. You know, unfortunately there's not a lot of good resources out there for the general public to really understand the science. So what they get are these really low quality documentaries and things like that. But I think one really good resource and it sounds super lame and people hardly ever look at it, but honestly usually Government websites are typically decent resources, or something like the UN will put out reports on this stuff. Another good place to look, if you don't want to really take a deep dive into the esoteric research and things like that, is the UN and most Government entities will put out a summaries for policymakers. So that's a key thing you want to look for because they’ve distilled all of the information down for the average person to be able to comprehend and digest.
Karina: Right. That's a really good point.
Bradie: Yeah. So if you can find these summaries for policy makers, that's a really good place to start. Then if you want to get a deeper dive, they'll reference other things within that resource. But you know, there might be paywalls that the general public can access even looking at this research and even if they can pay it, they might not be educated enough to understand what the heck they're talking about. So this is a problem that really bothers me as a scientist. That's why I try so hard to do so much scientific communication because the general public is paying all this money in taxes to produce the science and the scientists aren't reaching back and communicating it.
Karina: That is such a good point, which is why we need more academics like you around who are in the research front lines essentially, but also sharing with non-academics in understandable ways, what the research found.
Bradie: Yes. And obviously experts are a great place to go, but I will caution you that if you go to listen to an expert, make sure what they're talking about is their field of expertise. Sometimes you will see a physicist talking about climate change. The physicist doesn't know anything about climate change, but he's been paid x amount of dollars to say this to support whoever, so he's going to say it.
Karina: And he's Dr. so and so.
Bradie: Right. So don't just look at the title of doctor and say, Oh yeah, they're an expert, dig a little deeper, figure out who's this person worked for, what their degree actually in. If it's an area of expertise, they're generally trustworthy because if someone in their area of expertise says something out of line, they're going to be booted out of their field. They've lost respect amongst their peers and they're not publishing anymore their livelihoods over.
Karina: That's a really interesting point. I know somebody who is a vet for animals. Technically he's a doctor and he has websites about fitness, like human fitness marketed of course, as Dr. so and so, but he's a vet. So yeah, I think what you're saying is absolutely true.
Bradie: You just have to be careful. It doesn't necessarily mean that what they're saying is wrong. But the chances go up exponentially that they could be saying something misleeding. I think a good place to look at this is things like the Coronavirus. There were a ton of fake experts. Everybody that had doctor in front of their name is being shelled out to push somebody's interest. In reality, the only people we should be listening to right now are epidemiologists, infectious disease experts, immunologists not, you know, Dr. Smith who studied physics decades ago. They are not true experts. I'm sure he knows a ton about physics, but he doesn't know about coronavirus.
Karina: A hundred percent. Well, if you have any suggestions for where our listeners can go for more info. I remember there was a UN report. I think it was in 2006, something like “Livestock's Long Shadow” or something like that, where they came out with a report on emissions and why beef specifically was not great for the environment. However, if you have any links to articles that are available, that aren't behind a paywall, even just like one or two, I would love to put those in the show notes.
Bradie: I can definitely share some stuff with you. I can share that beef to beans study, I can share that the work by the Food Climate Research Network. They've done a really good video where they distill down the science and talk about the free range, grass fed beef and why it's sham essentially. I can definitely send some of this to you.
Karina: Great, because then at least our show notes can be a place to start for people.
Karina: Awesome. Well, Bradie, thank you so much. This was incredible. This is going to be one of our most listened to episodes. I know it already because there are so many topics in here, so thank you again for coming on for your second appearance. I hope there will be more. Where can people go to connect with you?
Karina: Amazing. Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Bradie: Yeah. Happy to be here. Thanks for having me on!
Karina: Bradie. You're the best. Thanks again for joining me on the show and doing so much important myth-busting for me and our audience.
Make sure you check out our show notes at Nobullshitvegan.com/079 to connect with Bradie, get your hands on his book and check out the links and resources we mentioned in this episode. Thanks so much for tuning in.
Thanks for listening to the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast at Nobullshitvegan.com