So what gives? Why is this staple of American agriculture suddenly a political football?

A Democratic flub

When rolling out a relatively toothless plan for the so-called Green New Deal, freshman Democrat Ocasio-Cortez released to the public a fact sheet that said getting carbon emissions to net zero within a decade would be tough because “we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to full get rid of farting cows.”

It’s a smart point to make, but it was also one that could become political talking point for Republicans.

When considering how the food system impacts global climate change, the United Nations has estimated that the livestock sector contributes 14.5% of total manmade greenhouse gas emissions. Beef and milk production make up the majority of that—including from the methane that cows expel. So addressing cows is important. Talking so plainly about getting rid of them, though, was widely considered a flub.

Meat is already under siege

Outfits such as the World Health Organization—bolstered by a growing body of scientific evidence—have linked red and processed meats with certain types of cancer, as well as heart disease. That recognition has coincided with calls for people to reduce the amount of red meat they eat.

Warnings about the healthfulness of beef has already had some meat industry trade publications decrying what they consider a “war on meat.”

The bottom-line is that cows are taking fire from two different angles: health and environmental. A misstep by Democrats has turned them into a political talking point, and suddenly Americans are being asked to think a little bit more critically about the animals.

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