Podcast Episode 104: Cow Gas, Upcycling & Beef Sustainability – Dr. Sara Place

Dec 6, 2018

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What constitutes a sustainable food system? Today, Dr. Sara Place talks about animal agriculture in a sustainable food system. She also shares how a small farm girl became a holistic animal scientist.

“When it comes to sustainability, we need to think about the entire food system, not just the environmental footprints of individual foods. I encourage people to dig deeper into discussions of sustainable nutrition. Sometimes the conversation stops at the first level (the carbon footprint of food X is lower than food Y; therefore, eat X not Y), but the social aspect of sustainability is critical and often ignored. Does advice to purchase one type of food or product meet someone’s budget, preferences, food culture, etc.?” – Dr. Sara Place

Dr. Sara Place – Working at NCBA

Sara has been with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) for a year and a half now. In line with her job, she focuses on the environmental impacts and sustainability of livestock production systems.

At NCBA, she heads the sustainability research program funded by the Beef Checkoff. They look at bench-marking for most of the US beef industry and the life cycle of beef. They also conduct studies on how the present state of the US beef industry may be bettered.

An Origin Story

Sara Place - Cow Gas, Upcycling & Beef SustainabilitySara grew up in a 70-cow dairy farm owned by her parents in the small town of Oxford, New York. As expected, her childhood ultimately influenced the track she took for her studies.

Before taking on her role at NCBA, she was an Assistant Professor at Oklahoma State University. Back then, she taught a wide array of classes from animal nutrition to daily production science. She also did research focused on developing different systems to measure greenhouse gas emissions, specifically methane from cattle or cow gas.

On the Subject of Sustainability

Sustainability can be defined in many ways. According to the UN, it is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

“It’s about making sure that we do right by everybody today but also make sure that the future is going to be bright for people as well.” – Dr. Sara Place on sustainability

Most people acknowledge that sustainability is a long-term focus. But another component that comes into play is that sustainability cuts across a few different domains. These domains include the environment, social issues, and economic issues.

Listen to the episode to hear more key points about the role ruminants play in our food system, the environmental impacts of beef, and how agriculture in the U.S. has changed over time.

Sara Place Sound Bites Podcast

Guest Bio:

Sara Place, Ph.D., is Senior Director of Sustainable Beef Production Research at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). As an animal scientist, she focuses on the environmental impacts and sustainability of livestock production systems. She shares some key points about the role ruminants play in our food system (particularly, the costs and benefits — e.g., upcycling vs. carbon footprints), and how environmental impacts of beef, and really all agriculture in the U.S., have declined over time.

Prior to NCBA, Dr. Place was on the faculty at Oklahoma State in the Department of Animal Science as an Assistant Professor with teaching and research appointment. Prior to that, she was a fellow of Dairy Management Inc. She grew up on a dairy farm in Upstate NY, and her family is still directly involved in production agriculture (crop production, dairy farming — both cows and goats!).

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is a membership organization and contracts with the Beef Checkoff. The Beef Checkoff is a program funded by cattlemen and women (every time cattle are sold, $1 goes to the checkoff) to conduct research and promote beef. The program is overseen by USDA but is wholly funded by beef producers.


Resources on beef sustainability:


Fact Sheets:

BeefItsWhatsForDinner Resources:

Sound Bites podcasts and blog posts related to this topic:

Grass-Fed vs. Grain-Fed Beef: What’s the Difference? – blog interview with Amy Myrdal Miller

The Surprising Truth about Sustainable Agriculture with Jack Bobo – Sound Bites Podcast Episode 43

Picture This: Food Photo Tips & New Heart-Check Recipes

Protein Challenge blog posts and podcasts

Answers on Antibiotics – An Interview with Dr. Leah Dorman

Talking Trash (Food Waste) with Dr. Joan Salge Blake – Sound Bites Podcast Episode 103

Today’s Dietitian Spring Symposium 2019Sound Bites is collaborating with Today’s Dietitian! Stay tuned for updates on the podcast, blog, and newsletter!

Save the Date! Today’s Dietitian Spring Symposium 2019 is in Scottsdale, Arizona May 19-22!

Music by Dave Birk

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  1. Bill Hestir on April 15, 2019 at 10:45 am

    4/15/2019. I just listened to your Podcast 104 with Dr. Sara Place. It was an exceptionally clear discussion of the activities of the NCBA to research and advance sustainability in the U.S. beef industry. Dr. Place succinctly explained the value of cattle in the food production life cycle and how cows “upcycle” plants that humans cannot digest.

    My hope as a member of the NCBA and the American Angus Association is that these kind of podcasts will reach Amercians of all walks of life as they consider their many food options.

    • Melissa Dobbins on April 15, 2019 at 10:53 am

      Thank you for listening and sharing your feedback. I agree – Dr. Place does a phenomenal job of sharing the science on this topic and it’s not information that is widely shared, so I was thrilled to have her on the show!

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