Goat: The Other (Sustainable) Red Meat

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By Millie Milliken

Last spring marked the end of an era as the National Pork Board rebranded pork by replacing the decades old “Pork. The Other White Meat” slogan with the new “Pork: Be Inspired” campaign. Credited with positioning pork as a healthy alternative to chicken and reviving a declining industry, few can argue the impact of the original marketing campaign. Sales grew 20 percent over the first five years of the campaign.

Many are aware of the detrimental effects meat consumption has on the environment. Considering the amount of natural resources required to produce meat (from the agricultural land required to produce the feed to water and energy consumption), it is no surprise that daily consumption of meat or dairy results in a high carbon footprint. Given the fact that goat meat is lumped into the red meat “bad for the environment” category, I think it is time for the goat industry to engage in a marketing shift, much as the pork industry did in the late 1980s.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Why goat? Do people actually eat goat?” Yes! While Americans are the largest consumers of beef in the world, the rest of the world is enjoying goat. Not only is goat meat the most consumed meat in the world, accounting for nearly 70 percent of red meat consumed, goat milk is also the most consumed milk of any animal globally.

In terms of environmental impact, meat and dairy tend to be major contributors to the global carbon footprint. Regarding food, the three culprits generating the most carbon emissions are lamb, beef, and cheese. Add in the impact of feed grain production, which utilizes generous doses of pesticides and nitrogen fertilizer and you’ve got yourself an environmental nightmare.

Goat production, on the other hand, offers a relatively sustainable alternative to other red meats. As goats are browsers, rather than grazers like cows, they do not tear out root systems and deplete the soil of nutrient rich grasses when feeding. By eating brush and weeds, goats remove competition for soil nutrients which helps to restore pasture quality. Additionally, goats require less space than cattle, thus you can have more goats on a piece of land than cattle.

In terms of nutritional value, goat offers a healthy alternative. Goat meat is extremely low in fat; in fact, the only meat (white or red) to have less fat is ostrich at 2.8 percent (goat – 3%, turkey – 5.0%, chicken – 7.4%, beef – 18.8%). Moreover, goat meat has less calories and cholesterol than chicken, beef, pork, or lamb. As if that’s not reason enough to switch, goat milk is also a nutritional wonder as well. It is high in protein, low in cholesterol, and contains more calcium, potassium, and vitamins than cow’s milk. Additionally, it is easy to digest and has 7 percent less lactose, making it a great alternative for those with sensitive digestive systems. Most importantly, the recent trend of increasing goat options on restaurant menus indicates that goat is not only a healthy alternative, but also is tasty.

At the beginning of this year, there were just over 3 million goats in the United States. This pales in comparison to the current cattle inventory of 100 million and accounts for only 0.37% of the world goat population. Although the U.S. lags in goat production and consumption, the industry is ramping up as the total number of goats has doubled in the last 20 years. Much of this increase in U.S. production can be attributed to several factors: the growth in cultural groups that traditionally consume goat, the increase in health consciousness, and the growing culinary interests in ethnic foods. Given these factors, it is no wonder goat production has greatly increased over the past few decades.

For goat farmers, this means opportunity for increased sales. Currently, due to the low amount of domestic production, the U.S. is the top importer of goat meat. Some estimate that in order to rectify this supply deficit, an additional 500,000 goats (17 percent increase) are needed to meet the demand. As the U.S. continues to pay a high price for imported goat meat, goat farmers can charge a premium price for a superior product that tastes great.

With the American public becoming increasingly aware of concepts like “carbon footprint” and “calories from fat,” the U.S. goat industry could be poised to take off in the coming decade. Much like the “Pork. The Other White Meat” campaign of the last quarter century, an effective advertising campaign by the American Dairy Goat Association or the American Boer Goat Association highlighting goat as a healthy and sustainable alternative to beef, chicken, pork and lamb could do wonders to increase domestic sales of goat.

[Image credit: agrilifetoday, Flickr]

3 responses

  1. To say that goat production is “relatively sustainable” is to say nothing at all. It’s either sustainable or it isn’t. Anything we do to sustain a 7 billion plus earthly population is going to come with a major price to the environment. Energy (fossil fuel or renewable) food production, (organic or factory farming) transportation, and all the little things that make civilization possible, takes an enormous toll on the planet’s obviously not too fragile ecosystem, given the abuse it has sustained until present. The only logical argument is one which addresses what method produces the most damage in the shortest amount of time. Earth is finite in size and capacity, and we’ll eventually test its ultimate limits. How we get there is moot as long as the population continues to grow, herbivore or carnivore, we will arrive. In one hundred years, the 21 or so billion residents of the planet will look back longingly to meals of beef, pork, seafood, dairy, and the hearty vegetation we have available in the present, as they dine on their kelp and soy, food replacement bars at Thanksgiving. Maybe Charlton Heston’s dramatic utterance of “Soylant Green is people,” in the movie bearing the same name is a bit of a stretch, but the visuals the movie provides, does give pause to anyone who ponders the fate of the planet before nature’s next Extinction Event comes to pass.

  2. Australia is the largest goat meat exporter and mainly these are feral or wild goats. In 2009-10this  was around 1.8 million head or 27,842 tonnes of goat meat.  Australia ranks 43rd in the world for herd size and 39th for meat production. The USA is one of Australia’s largest export markets for goat meat (as well as Taiwan) .
    Feral goats can do a lot of damage to the environment so it is a good that their numbers are managed and their meat used to feed people around the world.

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