There’s a myth afoot in the Environmental/Health Movement, that, if you’re really serious about saving the planet and being healthy, you have to stop eating meat! After all, don’t animals produce methane that increases global warming and doesn’t meat contains all kinds of hormones, antibiotics and other stuff bad for human well-being?
The reality is, there is nothing intrinsically bad about homo sapiens eating animal foods. In fact, animals have provided populations with vital sustenance for thousands of years. The problem is the way we manage animal production in this so-called advanced industrial age. When managed properly, livestock have the potential to strongly support human life and positively impact — even reverse — the effects of global warming!
Proper Animal Production Reduces Our Carbon Footprint
Today, factory farms account for 80% of meat production. That means masses of animals crowded into filthy feedlots that allow little movement or outdoor exposure, fed GMO grains, injected with hormones to speed growing and antibiotics to kill pathogens, etc. These methods are absolutely unacceptable for animal health AND from an environmental and human health standpoint.
Cattle — colloquially cows — are designed to thrive on grass, not grains. When animals are allowed to graze in pastures, a process called carbon sequestration — the process of removing excess carbon from the air and burying it in the soil — occurs. Here are several ways:
- Through photosynthesis, plants take in carbon and other pollutants from the atmosphere and release oxygen. It’s one reason people like to have houseplants. This occurs most efficiently when plants are actively growing. When a grazing animal takes a bite of greenery, it speeds ups its rate of photosynthesis to grow back. Every time this happens, carbon sequestration increases and this adds up. Regenerative farms have documented sequestration of between 5-7.4 tons of carbon per acre annually. It this were done on the 12 billion acres of agricultural land worldwide, we could sequester from 60-90 gigaton of carbon per year. Currently, about 40 gigaton of greenhouse gases are emitted each year, so this could make a substantial dent. A comprehensive 2013 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization stated that pastured livestock could make our agricultural sector carbon neutral in a matter of years.
- What about methane? A 2019 study found that a large pastured livestock operation in Georgia offset over 100% of methane emissions produced by livestock through sequestration. The effect is even greater when you consider that typical toxic emissions from factory farms — synthetic fertilizers, agrochemicals, gasoline-powered farm equipment (which account for 45% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions) — are absent when replaced by natural grazing practices.
- Grazing animals constantly restore the land by trampling leaves, pushing nutrients into the ground and depositing their manure, fertilizing the soil. No need for fossil fueled machinery or synthetic chemical fertilizers which run off into water supplies. Overtime, this rebuilds and strengthens ecosystems which will limit the need for pest control and agrochemicals.
So What’s Not to Like?
There’s one big reason why regenerative agricultural practices haven’t taken hold on a large scale: this type of farming disrupts an extremely profitable supply chain established by agribusinesses around the globe. In a self-sustaining system, there’s no need for all the ancillary companies providing myriad chemical fertilizers, feeds and fuels needed by large scale factory farms. These products have been deemed indispensable for the past 80-90 years, since the Great Depression and World War II, in order to accomplish the task of feeding growing populations. A vast network of subsidies and lobbying power has been created to perpetuate this highly lucrative system.
When that system developed, it was better living through chemistry. The downsides to environment, health, soil were not understood, much less even considered. To restore the destruction — and feed the planet with abundant nutrient-dense quality animal foods — proponents of regenerative practices understand that cows, sheep, buffalo, pigs, poultry are the key. The process of grass-grazing ruminant animals and their relationship with the land is unique.
It’s Consumers’ Choice
It is not a question of vegetables are good and meat is bad. You can enjoy animal products without “global warming guilt,” but do make a concerted effort to buy high-quality animal foods from farmers who use regenerative/sustainable growing methods. You won’t see the “regenerative” label yet, so look for “pasture-raised,” “grass-fed,” “free-range.” Of course, consume a wide variety of fresh, seasonal, locally-produced plant foods, but be wary of “hot” new products with laboratory-grown “plant-based meats,” e.g., Burger King’s new Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat, Tofurkey, and the like. These highly processed so-called vegetarian/vegan items usually contain an abundance of soy, pesticides, GMOs, not to mention scant nutritional benefits — all of which are harmful to human health and the environment.
Moderate amounts of a wide array of nutrient-dense pastured animal foods — including raw or fermented milk, eggs, butter, cheese, bone broths, beef tallow, roasts, organ meats, wild caught fish — are life-enhancing. These will give you generous amounts of vital elements that plants just cannot provide. For example, pasture-fed meat is high in beta carotene, calcium, selenium, magnesium, potassium, vitamins B12, B6, B3, E, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a powerful anti-carcinogen. Animal products are also high in the long-chain omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is vital for human brain development.
Animals, when raised according to the rules of Nature, can, indeed, be key to the solution of the climate crisis AND the health of human animals on the planet!
NOTE: In our 48 years experience at F.A.C.T., very few people can thrive long term on a pure vegetarian or vegan diet. Please see our article:
Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production by Nicolette Hahn Niman
“If You Want to Save the World, Veganism Isn’t the Answer” by Isabel Tree, The Guardian
“Farting Cows, Factory Farms and the Climate Crisis”—Organic Consumers Association
“Impossible Fools at Impossible Burger” — Dr. Mercola
“Is Grass-Fed Beef Really Better for the Planet? Here’s the Science” — National Public Radio