Is Meat Ruining the Planet?
Can our planet handle the burden?
In 2017, the EPA reported that agriculture contributed nearly 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and livestock accounted for a full third of that. Between 1990 and 2005, U.S. methane emissions from dairy cow manure rose 50%. However, the EPA traced the increase to greater numbers of factory farms.
The industrial livestock system is heavily dependent on grain, and growing grain for feedlot animals is an environmental strain. Corn and soybeans, the most common crops grown for feed, require literal tons of artificial nitrogen fertilizers and herbicides made by burning millions of tons of C02. The result is an increasingly unsteady climate, a food system saturated with toxins, and polluted air and water. In addition, this fertilizer used to grow corn and soy combined with excess nutrients from animal waste runs off into waterways. This creates algae blooms that suffocate aquatic life. Agricultural waste is a large contributor to these "dead zones,” including the 900-square-mile span in the Gulf of Mexico.
But the problem isn’t the cow, it’s the how!
It’s a myth that animal agriculture has to be destructive or that we have to stop eating meat to save the planet. By eliminating factory farms and encouraging regenerative grazing - which emphasizes soil health and animal welfare - we can mitigate climate change and global warming by sequestering carbon.
Scientists at Quantis, one of the world's most respected environmental research and design firms, conducted a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on beef raised by White Oak Pastures to account for the energy and environmental impacts of all stages of a product's life cycle, including enteric emissions (belches and gas) from cattle, manure emissions, farm activities, slaughter and transport, and carbon sequestration through soil and plant matter. Their conclusion was that the farm captured more carbon in the soil than their cows emitted during their lives. Incredibly, this LCA study showed even fewer carbon emissions than Beyond Burger's.
Amazingly, if we applied regenerative grazing to just 25% of our croplands and grasslands, we could mitigate the entire carbon footprint of North American agriculture. [iii]
It is clear that regenerative grazing increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services. It captures carbon in soil and above ground biomass, reversing current global trends of atmospheric accumulation. At the same time, it offers increased yields, resilience to climate instability, and higher health and vitality for farming and ranching communities.
-- Grazing animals can utilize marginal subpar land that is otherwise unable to grow food. When using regenerative grazing, those marginal lands can be brought back to life.
-- Grass-fed animals' manure has about half of the potential to generate methane as feedlot animals' manure. [iv]
-- According to Drawdown (which identifies, researches and ranks the 100 most substantive solutions to address climate change), reducing meat consumption combined with Regenerative Grazing is one of the best ways forward for preserving soil health, reducing climate-warming emissions.
Feel Good About the Meat You Eat.
- SOIL CARBON COWBOYS Meet Allen Williams, Gabe Brown and Neil Dennis - heroes and innovators! These ranchers now know how to regenerate their soils while making their animals healthier and their operations more profitable. They are turning ON their soils, enabling rainwater to sink into the earth rather than run off. And these turned ON soils retain that water, so the ranches are much more resilient in drought. It's an amazing story that has just begun.
- THE SOIL STORY: Regenerative Agriculture 101.
- THE LEXICON OF SUSTAINABILITY: GRASS-FED on PBS.org. Most cattle are finished on industrial feedlots, where they are fed a mix of antibiotics, hormones, protein supplements, and corn. Farmers like Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Swoope, Virginia raise their cattle on grass, using regenerative (or managed or rotational) grazing and other fundamental principles of pasture management. Learn more about the difference between grass-fed and corn-fed beef.
- HOW A NEW DIET FOR GASSY COWS IS HELPING THE ENVIRONMENT on BBC.com. Cattle farming is responsible for almost 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. So, some farmers in Colombia have been piloting a different way of raising cows that has proved better for the environment.
- HOW TO GREEN THE DESERT AND REVERSE CLIMATE CHANGE. Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And it's happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes -- and his work so far shows -- that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert.
Ten reasons why 100% grass-fed/finished meat is better for the environment:
- Total emissions for greenhouse gases are 8 percent lower
- Ammonia emissions are reduced by 30 percent
- Reduces fuel use, as well as the carbon dioxide emissions from farm equipment (grass is solar powered)
- Converting cropland to grassland captures carbon in the soil, substantially reducing the carbon footprint
- Compared to land used to grow feed stock (soy and corn), grassland greatly reduces erosion and flooding.
- Improves water quality because of the huge dropin sediment erosion caused from growing feed stock (corn and soy)
- Feeding animals grass greatly reduces manure and fertilizer runoff, thereby significantly reducing phosphorous in the water
- Since fertilizer is not used to grow feed stock, there's no runoff causing huge algae blooms, "dead-zones," in the oceans
- Since manure lagoons or piles are unnecessary, there's no pathogen runoff that pollutes the water system or stinks up the air
- Grass feeding benefits wildlife, since it encourages biodiversity of native grasses rather than monoculture with barren winter fields [ii]