A grazier argues that this popular sentiment misses the point, and distracts us from the opportunity to adopt a diet that will restore ecosystems while nourishing people.
A grazier argues that this popular sentiment misses the point, and distracts us from the opportunity to adopt a diet that will restore ecosystems while nourishing people.
January 26, 2018
Given the concerns over resource-intensive industrial meat production, you’d think the resounding message would be, “don’t buy cheap meat, buy good meat.”
Instead, a rule of thumb that has emerged in environmentalists’ circles is simply “eat less meat.” This statement frames meat as an indulgence rather than 1) the end result of an essential and timeless ecological process (the biological breakdown of vegetation, which feeds the soil and removes dead grass so that new vegetation can grow) and 2) a fulcrum in the way land across the world is managed or mismanaged.
As a grazier and land manager, I’m part of a growing group of people who have committed our lives to restoring the health of environments directly, through exquisitely precise grazing on sensitive land, and who depend on the support of our communities to do this work.
“Eat less meat” is a well-intended caveat amongst woke environmentalists (a group who is, after all, my cohort) but it has also become a primary barrier to me and others like me doing our work. And it’s hard to not take that personally. Because what could be more personal than the health of my watershed and the kingdoms that inhabit it? If these things aren’t personal to you, we have a bigger problem.
Our work goes like this: We memorize every nook and cranny of a piece of land like a lover’s body. We study how water flows across it and what grasses grow where. We plant trees where we’ve seen them grow before and could grow again. We spend unpaid hours moving animals exactly where they need to go to knock down encroaching brush on long-neglected land. We fence out bird nests. We leave areas ungrazed for a season—and can calculate the cost to the tune of hundreds of dollars—because we know in our throats, our chests, our bellies, and our bones (that’s where we feel it) that it needs another season to grow before grazing would be helpful. We get knocked down, kicked, cut up and cut open; we don’t just risk injury but accept its inevitability. We memorize the names of species that used to grow or live here but have been lost. We love the land and its inhabitants so much that we’re willing to work for next to nothing.
But martyrdom isn’t very becoming, and you can’t milk a dry cow; so like everyone else, graziers have to make money. Until environmentalists actually really put their money where their mouth is and pay me and others to graze land right without meat as the chief goal, we have to sell the surplus from our herds (the flesh of some of the animals) in order to be able to afford to feed ourselves.
Believe me, I wish I were a photosynthesizing autotroph who could get my nourishment directly from the sun.
Not all grazing is created equal. This is the essence of what gets missed in discussions about the impact of livestock agriculture on our local ecosystems and global climate. Decades of mismanagement has left a tough legacy for those of us grazing with restorative goals to overcome. But when animals are managed according to nature’s schedule, beautiful changes can happen fast.
Some of the year I graze the animals in tight bunches to lay down old grass to feed the soil. Other times, I’m herding them fast across the property to stimulate grass plants to grow denser and healthier while they pump carbon deep into the soil food web. I can stop erosion around streams based on how I move these big animals, and stabilize vulnerable hillsides through careful decision-making. For me and many like me, grazing is our art form—it’s our best tool for breathing new life into neglected land.
“Eat less meat” is about mitigating damage, and it misses the opportunity to tell people that there’s a way to actually benefit their planet. Industrially produced meat is unquestionably bad for the environment, and for animals. But perpetuating the myth that all meat is the same means that the potential benefits of responsibly raised meat never get a sufficient foothold. By telling only half the story, we’re perpetuating the problem because we never bother to mention the solution.
As an aside, few environmentalists who are opposed to grazing animals and eating their flesh have demonstrated either the degree of embodied affection, personal risk, and deep practice or the knowledge of grassland dynamics, plant succession, and wildlife movement that I’ve seen among the graziers in my life. So I urge those who care about the meat industry’s impact on the environment to bring more curiosity and humility to the discussion.
When we say “eat less meat” and end it there, we miss an opportunity to equip eaters with the means of sourcing protein that will not only nourish them but restore their home ecosystems. And behind every few hundred acres of land that goes poorly managed due to consumer miseducation is a land steward who can’t do their work.
Appetite is energy. Rather than try to halt the tide of appetite for meat by discouraging its consumption outright, a better way to steward that energy would be to concentrate on where it would it can do the most good. In doing so, we’re not just improving our environment, we’re widening the demand for graziers who can produce meat and serve as ecological service providers.
So don’t “eat less meat.” Eat meat from people whose hands you can shake and whose ranches you can visit. Eat as much of that as you can afford, because that stuff comes from extensive production systems that impact hundreds and thousands of acres. Sourcing your protein from places you can account for means you can verify that their pastures are also habitat for foxes, badgers, burrowing owls, and bears—that you are keeping land wild and free. As I see it, beef raised in its environs beats a bean field any day as an ecologically just source of protein.
This type of meat isn’t cheap—and you might find that you value it differently and stop taking it for granted. The end result may very well be that far less meat is consumed overall, at least for a while. But the quantity doesn’t matter to me—what matters is what that animal did in its life on earth.
We have to pay for the world we want to live in. This means consuming the flesh of other sentient animals may damn well require a line-item on our budgets, alongside “eating out” and “entertainment.” Maybe it’s time we socialized ourselves and others to budget for environmental activism, and use that money to buy meat produced by the soil-building, grassland-loving graziers in our communities.
Photos courtesy of Ariel Greenwood.
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Or, if the wording of "eat less" is problematic because it implies zero meat as a goal, perhaps rewording that to "eat no more than your fair share of what the planet can sustain" would be better.
Production in the Amazon is only 4 to 6% pf global inventory. None of this production needs to happen. A lot of this production is done due to displacement and or as a way to hold onto land . SO no more deforestation is not necessary.
BUT preserving and restoring grassland ecosystems are. Grasslands sequester as much carbon as tropical rain forest. Grasslands unfortunately are being destroyed FASTER than rain forests. See https://blog.ucsusa.org/andrea-basche/why-the-loss-of-grasslands-is-a-troubling-trend-for-agriculture-in-11-maps-and-graphs Insects and grassland bird populations are crashing. Well managed ruminants in these ecosystems presevre and restore biodiversity in these ecosystems.
Plus rebuilding soils is also extremely important. Currently we're rapidly losing topsoil. Estimates are that we will lose all our topsoil in 60 years. The best way to rebuild soil quickly is with integrated livestock especially ruminants. So re-integrating livestock into cropping systems is yet another way to increase meat and crop production without ANY need to deforest any more land. The ruminants not only build soil, but they improve nutrient cycling, increase crop yields, increase nutrient density of crops, eliminate the need for NPK fertilizers as well as drastically reduce both organic and synthetic pesticide use especially herbicide use.
As it stands, most land suitable for grazing doesn't need "cleared". Savannah and Steppe lands that are ideal for grazing cover a large majority of the Earth's landmass. Typically, clearing is involved for expansion of tillage crops such as legumes and grains (sold as the only way to feed the world). Many of these grains are used to feed livestock in controlled systems such as feedlots while grasslands degrade because humans have interrupted the natural grazing animal systems on these lands. The current model clears forests to plant corn to feed to cattle in pens while grasslands have lost their natural nutrient cycles due to loss of grazing. This model is simultaneously destroying multiple ecosystems.
When we look at the work of folks like Allan Savory and Dr. Richard Teague, and it is put into practice by people like the author of this article, a solution becomes apparent. But as it stands, managed grazing isn't as easy as cramming cattle in a feedlot and bringing in corn to feed. There is a necessary cost increase to the meat. Until the average person is aware of these systems, they will continue to buy their beef at Wal-Mart and funnel their money into destructive systems. The average consumer can be told "Eat Less Meat" or "Eat No Meat", but this is the same group that still smokes cigarettes, drinks alcohol, and throws trash out the window of their car. Making a shift to meat raised in regenerative systems is the only way to meet consumer demand without destroying our planet.
The real land clearing issues come from plant based production. If everyone eats no meat, those calories must be replaced. With a population increasing rapidly, it requires clearing more forests for arable lands to grow these crops. Unfortunately, most appropriate grazing lands are not suitable for this type of agriculture so we are left with no option but to further clear lands. That is the real unsustainable system than cannot be scaled up without wholesale destruction of ecosystems.
The ethical arguments against eating animals have been rehearsed a million times. The tacit assumption in this article is that we should not be concerned for the animals—tacit because their experience of "farming" and slaughter is not even raised as an issue. But to me the most compelling argument is simply that, like humans, or dogs or cats, animals like cows, pigs, even chickens are intelligent beings capable of a wide range of feeling, from compassion to fear. To kill them without need—and practically no humans /need/ meat to survive—seems a profound moral wrong.
Quite the contrary, one of the byproducts of good grazing management is the restoration of ecosystems, and herds of cattle grazed properly have restored entire watersheds, which creates habitat for dozens if not hundreds of species of animals and insects that would not be there without the timed impact of the cattle.
I do agree that it is painful to kill something that bleeds to survive, and we do it daily- no matter if you eat meat or anything for that matter. This is the cycle of life, and deserves our gratitude. Perhaps you could live your life as a Buddhist monk and never harm a worm, though that is not the reality for the majority of the planet.
This quote, in particular, seems wrong to me: "So don’t “eat less meat.” Eat meat from people whose hands you can shake and whose ranches you can visit. Eat as much of that as you can afford, because that stuff comes from extensive production systems that impact hundreds and thousands of acres."
There are still negative health and environmental consequences of eating too much meat, and being rich shouldn't mean you eat steak every day...
I think this article would be more effective if it didn't take such a harsh stance.
I do agree that we shouldn't say "Eat less meat" and end it there, and I also think that there are sustainable ways to eat some meat and unsustainable ways of being a vegetarian. This argument just fell short and seemed to lack complexity for me.
As for the health arguments, when you understand how weak the underlying nutritional science is, which is mainly epidemiology with very weak R/R associations (plus not isolating confounders), the health argument isn't one to hang your hat on. Here for example is some analysis https://youtu.be/xDgzgDSInt0 of the WHO/IARC report
Well raised grass finished meat, especially beef, is a nutrient dense source of essential amino acids, carnitine, fat soluble vitamins (A1, K2, D3), B12 and minerals especially heme iron and zinc. So in many ways, beef is a super food.
I have heard a govt scientist on radio here saying that if we took all the cattle and sheep out of feedlots and released them into the grasslands we would reverse climate change in a couple of decades.
I also attended a talk by a farmer who had abandoned fertilizer by feeding his cows "bio char" and introducing a variety of dung beetles.
The charcoal in their belly allowed for the growth of a naturally occurring bacteria that convert methane into proteins, reducing the methane load to ZERO while pushing up gross meat volumes, and the dung beetles sequester the carbon in the soil while also providing deep aeration and fertilization. Results were astounding for both beast and land.
Keep up the good work,
Here is a link to the Nebraska Nature Conservancy Study https://prairienebraska.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/patch-burning-for-biodiversity.pdf
Thanks for that article PDF. I'll check it out.
One thing I reckon with here on the ranches I graze is how to support the native grass plants' recovery cycles, which seem longer than the annual grasses and nonnative perennials like holcus lanatus, without going so long between grazing a given area that the species we do want become so overgrown with thatch that their growth is inhibited.
I have no opinion on stocking rates in a given area; to my mind they should be determined by the plants, and built from there. In my experience over the years, higher impact and longer rest periods (as opposed to lower impact, but no actual rest period where cattle are outright excluded) seems to support the native bunch grasses and forbs best, but I'm not grazing the kind of ecosystem as described in the Prairie Nebraska piece.
The discussion of what is pasture, what is grassland, and so on, is pretty tricky business. The semantics are slippery. On any given piece of land in my management, the cows are occupying a small slice of it. That's pretty common with those of us who plan our grazing around the recovery periods of plants, because good grazing as as much about where the cattle animals are -not-. The land surrounding the ranches I graze would almost certainly qualify as "cow pastures" and little more, with their low diversity, almost exclusively annual grass populations, incised stream banks, and compacted soil. Meanwhile, the ranches I graze are flowing with life.
Again, not all grazing is created equal. I'd say even some of those who have celebrated this piece as vindication for their work might be missing the point.
So, I think you have the order of operations wrong. "Eat less meat" doesn't necessarily make room for the wild lands and species you and I both love. Given what you've written, for the bioregion you describe, perhaps the better message would be "eat meat from systems that are shown to support native grass populations and trophic diversity," because imploring humans to "eat less" doesn't take into account the real pressures at work on land. We live in a vicious economy.
So basically your entire premise is wrong. Most beef cattle graze on land that was once prairie, grasslands and Savannah populated by large herds of ruminants. Removing the wild ruminants is what led to massive land degradation along with poorly managed cattle that didn't biomimic these wild herds.
Now grasslands are being destroyed at faster rates than rain forests for commodity crops used for ethanol, biofuel, seed oils, processed food ingredients and feed for CAFO's. Restoring and regenerating grassland is key to restoring these destroyed ecosystems. When you actually understand how regenerative grazing works, cattle occupy only a small portion of the land at any one time....about 1% of the land they graze. All the rest of the land is shared with other animals and insects especially birds. So regenerative ranches are actually more like nature preserves.
A good starting point is this article by George Monbiot: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/04/livestock-farming-artificial-meat-industry-animals
Nidjam et al. (2012) found that extensively-grazed ruminants are responsible for vastly more methane emissions than any other form of agriculture, while Ripple et al (2014) report that ruminant agriculture is the single largest methane emitter compared to e.g. the fossil fuel sector. Non-CO2 emissions (of which methane is the main component) account for a third of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and further, are considered much more 'potent' climate forcers than CO2. More recently, the 'Grazed & Confused' report concluded that grazed cattle are unequivocally bad for the environment, and Wolf et al (2017) found that "livestock" in any kind of farming system are net greenhouse gas emitters.
As for other purported environmental benefits of "livestock" grazing, they really don't stack up to the available evidence. For example, Erb et al (2015) looked at which food production systems would result in a net-zero increase in agricultural land by the 2050, and thus prevent further destruction of already fragile wild habitat. They found that the only diets that achieve this are plant-based. Also see Alexandrowicz et al (2016) and Springmann et al (2016) for further exploration of why plant-based food production systems have the greatest possible benefit for GHG emissions, land-use, water-use, human health, and conservation.
As a final note, I'd like to point out that, even if "cattle" grazing were beneficial for ecosystems and habitat management, this would not necessitate murdering those animals for food. We could instead value those individuals as co-inhabitors of the landscape and leave them in peace, while gaining the tangible and intangible benefits of the ecosystem services they provide. Indeed, rewilding of habitats with native species, such has been achieved in the Oostvaardersplassen, is a viable option with precedent, that doesn't require us to financially support conservation by enslaving and killing complex, sentient animals.
I appreciate the time and thought cycles you've invested in this. To be honest, your last paragraph leaves me disinclined to respond, because you've thrown up a philosophical wall. Having said that, there's a lot about ranching I don't like, and over the next few generations I hope that human appetite becomes increasingly attuned to ecological health and biodiversity such that the land currently in recovery thru grazing that is tailored to soil and plant restoration will see the trophic web become so robust that native herbivores yield the benefits currently best served thru domestic ruminants (in my experience).
When I ask myself what the barriers are to this, I do see the world's appetite for cheap flesh as a terrible counterforce, and I see our appetite for flesh that comes from animals that were a net benefit to their ecosystems as positive force towards a truly rewilded planet. But of course, it's an interim process. (This is where Monbiot and I disagree--we want to live in the same world but have very different opinions on how to get there).
Another huge barrier is land use and development. This is another reason why I graze: land that is demonstrably healthy has a better chance of keeping out other forms of agriculture (annual ag, grapevines, etc) and resists housing and commercial development.
I think we should be eating mostly plants, too. But where we crucially differ is I believe we should be sourcing our protein and other macro and micronutrients from landscape restoring sources. Most plant based diets are derived from annual agricultural systems that are even less like "natural" ecosystems than a poorly managed cow pasture. I don't want to support those systems. But if I felt that I was doing a morally reprehensible thing by consuming the flesh of sentient creatures, no amount of ecological calculus could convince me otherwise, so I won't bother you on that matter.
I felt like in my article I was saying "source your protein from animals that improved ecosystems," and detractors are saying "that can't be done," by citing sources that have nothing to do with the kind of grazing I do, and don't address the symptoms of land in decline that I see in my immediate bioregion. So my initial statement should not be a threat (except for vegans, but there's no getting around that)--it appears people really just *don't believe me* and the claims I make, because they haven't seen it, and it's poorly researched (though that's changing fast).
So, that's encouraging to me to do a better job documenting and storytelling. I can't fault anyone for not seeing what I see if I haven't shown them.
Peas on earth
Methane discussions, in general, tend to be very reductive...
Enteric methane and methane in general is an interesting topic. Methane is generated from multiple biogenic and anthropogenic sources. Compacted anaerobic soils emit methane. Tilled and Syn N dependent Ag systems increase compaction. Well managed cattle don't. Well managed cattle increase the capacity of soils to function as methane sinks. Whereas Ag systems with tillage and or Syn N use turn these methane sinks into emitters. When the soil methane sink is reduced or becomes a source of emission, more CH4 from multiple sources gets emitted into the larger methane sink, the hydroxyl radical [OH] sink in the troposphere. This along with carbon monoxide emissions reduces the efficacy of these OH hydroxyl radicals to oxidize methane. When you have sufficient OH hydroxyl radicals, most methane doesn't make it into the stratosphere. Methane levels didn’t increase from 1998 to 2007, possibly in part to there being more hydroxyl radicals in the troposphere..
Atmospheric science is a bit more complex than what you read in the mass media. It isn't as simple as it is portrayed. Bottom-up analysis tends to blame the sources of methane where there's the most available data to extrapolate (e.g. cattle), but a lot of the top down isotopic data doesn't support this villianization. Isotopic data shows other sources for accumulated CH4 amounts particularly from shale and gas industries....though this too is debatable. There may be other unmeasured or not so well identified sources for this excess methane like the compacted anaerobic soils noted above.
Methane that isn’t oxidized also cycles and breakdown quickly in a seven to eleven year time frame, so the methane cycle is a lot different and not exactly equivalent to CO and CO2 emissions. This article , False Methane Math, http://www.resilience.org/stories/2017-10-20/false-methane-math/ discusses this in more detail. There’s a big difference between short cycled methane from biogenic/natural sources and the burning plus sources of fossil fuels that were last in the atmosphere hundreds of million years ago
So, in summary, CH4 discussions tend to be super reductive. Soil and hydroxyl radicals provide large sinks in the geosphere and troposphere but these sinks are never accounted for in bottom-up analysis. CH4 in the stratosphere depends on OH oxidation. OH levels are impacted by O3, H2O vapor, CO, CH4 and NOx levels. CH4 has a much shorter cycle that CO & CO2, thus equivalency isn’t necessarily equivalent. Additionally when natural gas is combusted, carbon monoxide CO is formed. This CO reacts with OH to form CO2, and reduces the amount of OH for CH4 oxidation. So, again, a bit more complex than simply "cows" burping and farting.
Just look at FCRN's report. During the entire 127 page report the terms "soil health", "soil ecosystem", soil microbes" and "topsoil loss" aren't mentioned at all even though soil carbon capture and respiration rates are completely dependent on the soil's health and microbiology as many of the more progressive soil scientists like Dr. David C Johnson, Dr. Christine Jones, Dr. Elaine Ingham as well as geologist Dr. David Montgomery and author Graeme Sait have pointed out in their research and or writings.
Here's a brief discussion about this impact of soil health on carbon capture from Dr. Johnson in this video https://youtu.be/Fdh_j_KOmrY and more at length discussion in these presentations https://youtu.be/XlB4QSEMzdg and https://youtu.be/18FVVYKU9gs
Basically Johnson notes that with healthier soils that have more fungi than bacteria, there is significantly more carbon capture (10+ times) and less carbon respiration. Long rooted perennial systems also pull carbon down deeper into the soil where the carbon is less volatile. Additionally, Johnson notes that, while there is a limit to how much carbon soil can store/sequester, there is no limit to how much soil that can be built. So more soil equals more carbon sequestration.
Given how rapidly soil is being lost (some projections note the planet will lose all of its top soil in 60 years), building new top soil is incredibly important. Relying solely on geology, building new topsoil takes over 100 years to build from the bottom up. But with composting, soil can be built more quickly from the top down. What do ruminants do? They are nature's mowers, composters and spreaders. Well managed ruminants, especially in more arid brittle environments with seasonal humidity are the best way to build more healthy topsoil the most rapidly as Gabe Brown points out in this video, Keys to Building Healthy Soil, https://youtu.be/9yPjoh9YJMk Soils with animals manures have the most and greatest microbial diversity and soil is made largely from dead microbes, not deteriorating organic matter. So the greater and more diverse the soil microbial mix the better for building soil.
Now what else do healthy soils do? They increase water infiltration and retention. So healthy soil ecosystems improve drought resistance and therefore increases plant growth. With more plant growth, there is more evapotranspiration, and thus healthy soils actually increase rainfall. With no-till systems and continuous cover, more moisture in the soil improves the soil ecosystem for methantrophic activity. With more rain, and moisture, some of those methanotrophs become airborne. So methanotrophs in the soils, mitigate CH4 emissions from manure and airborne methanotrophs mitigate enteric methane in the atmosphere. A more effective soil sink also reduces the load of CH4 that gets oxidized in the troposphere. Moreover, other soil microbes make sure more of the nitrogen (urea) in the manure is broken down into forms of nitrogen that plants can use like NH4 rather than are emitted into the atmosphere like nitrous oxide N2O. This natural occurring nitrogen doesn't leech into the environment like synthetic nitrogen that plants only utilize a small fraction of for growth. Most synthetic N runs off compacted soils into waterways causing aquatic hypoxia (dead zones).
Healthy soils are the key to everything, so it was quite shocking that this report completely overlooked this topic. Holistic management is not simply another grazing system for moving cattle. No, holistic management is a systems approach to regenerating land/soil health, ecosystem function and economic well being.
The solutions to let grasslands all become forests was quite comical as well, since most of the planet's grasslands are in brittle environments with little rain fall or seasonal humidity, so unless you improve soil health, most trees will die. Moreover from an ecological history point of view, most grasslands weren't forests. Grasslands co-evolved with large megafauna , grazing ruminants, and apex predators. When mankind helped kill off the megafuana, he became the keystone species who used controlled burning to reduce plant succession. Converting grasslands to bioenergy crops is even more absurd....because this is what's actually happening and leading to the destruction of drought resistant biodiverse grasslands with monocrops of blue water dependent seed oil crops used for ethanol, biofuels, processed food ingredients, cooking oils, industrial products and CAFO feeds. FCRN's suggestions for alternative grassland uses, in other words, are just plain dumb.
There are many other shortcomings with FCRN's report, though the lack of discussion of soil science and soil health's role in GHG balances, as discussed above, is the most glaring and egregious one.
Now the notion that ranchers shouldn't cull their herds for meat is a romantic one. Though unfortunately such romantic notions don't pay bills, especially taxes, labor costs and or land leases. Ranchers and farmers need as many revenue streams as possible to make ends meet. Not everything un the real world can be funded by kickstarter and indiegogo campaigns. The meat that ranchers like Ariel sells funds the costs of regenerating the land and helps sustain rural economies.
The kind of grazing I practice involves stocking rates tailored to the plant growth patterns and our ecological goals for our ranches (which generally are something like, increased biodiversity, improved soil carbon, improved water holding capacity, improved native plant recruitment, etc).
Not only are these lands unsuitable for annual agriculture, I would argue that grasslands themselves have a right to remain as such, and so the implication that they'd be better used to grow grains and annual vegetables rather than serve as habitat to myriad wildlife while being maintained by livestock (until wildlife populations are robust enough.. haste the day) just doesn't fly with me.
You are essentially pointing out that the poor can't really afford to pay the true cost of meat to the producers and the planet.
In the meantime, more responsible people can only repeat: PLEASE eat less meat.
Animals are certainly crucial to our ecosystem. Farmed animals replace wild animals on the land.
'Grazing livestock are a fully automated system for ecological destruction: you need only release them on to the land and they do the rest, browsing out tree seedlings, simplifying complex ecosystems. Their keepers augment this assault by slaughtering large predators.'
You're missing an opportunity to tailor people's appetites towards something that is helpful for their environment, while implicitly giving irresponsible meat decisions a pass.
Thank you for attending to this subject. Yes, it is an honourable career! Yes, we are constantly running thru the options in order to bring the best product to the table. As shepherds of our cattle, we take our task very seriously and offer the cattle the best environmental conditions possible.
I’m really proud of what we do......
Allow the land to revert back to natural scrub and meadow and grow edible plant crops where the land is suitable on a rotational system. Animals that have been hunted off the land by ranchers will return and fulfill their natural role of maintaining the land and ecosystem. Why fight so hard to keep doing something that is bad for our health and leads to the unnecessary slaughter of billions of animals? Allan Savory has been thoroughly debunked. Only those with financial interest or a serious addiction to eating animals are here screaming that this nonsense is good for the environment.
Expecting land to rewild itself, aside from being completely unrealistic from an economic point of view on private land, hasn't work. The land has just degraded further. Plus such rewilding relies on the re-establishment of other apex predators for the ecosystem to function properly. (Reintroduction of predators can be problematic with cars and near urban centers). Thus "killing" still has to occur for the ecosystem to be balanced. Otherwise wild ruminants over graze as well because there is no predatory pressure to move.
We can't turn our backs on them considering what Man and Woman used to have to do, when they just could never forage enough natural food sources, for a family, tribe, or clan. And it is a delicacy, many have completely forgotten that when it feels like Thanksgiving Holiday every week.
These people who insist that they should "eat less meat" to save the environment are also the ones driving their cars and occasionally flying in airplanes and their environmental purity goes right out the window if these activities are taken into account. This statement is frankly yet another example of (usually white) privilege and often, naivety.
The same people making this argument often subscribe things like the recent fire season in the West being a sure sign of Global Warming (it isn't - its a combination of North Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the El Nino/La Nina Cycles) when we have better indicators. It simply looks like our future to come. Another alarmist topic is the radiation in the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima is coming to poison us all. They know nothing about the radiation that has been coming down the Columbia River since the Manhattan Project from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation - or about basic concepts such as dilution! Don't even get me started about Lyme Disease which has been a big "disease du jour" for many or so they think. 5 years of unsuccessful treatment nearly killed me. Afterwards it was revealed that the main cause for my fatigue then was nothing more than easily treatable sleep apnea!
Like the science deniers, those saying "eat less meat" to save the environment say that argument based on belief systems, rather than any good hard scientific analysis.
Very interesting article and thank you for the information here. I've attempted to wade through the comments to see if my question has already been answered, but honestly it's starting to give me a headache. You see, I'm not all that smart and there are a tremendous amount of big words here. So I figured I'd just put my question out there and hope that you or someone else can answer.
A few things first: I recently switched to a vegan diet. I did not do it for moral reasons - I don't really have a hang-up with murdering animals. Whatever, it's cool, and the real vegans can get all mad about that if they want. I switched over because I believed, based on some things I read and what I considered common sense (but please recall that I'm not that smart) that is was overall better for the environment to "eat less meat." Then I figured, what's less than zero?
So here is the actual question: if the type of grazing that you do is actually better for the World than a vegan diet, how do I go about purchasing it? How do I make sure the meat my family is eating was raised with these types of grazing practices? How do I "shake the hand" as you said in the article? In other words ... what would you recommend for someone in my position? I just want to eat in a way that helps the Earth, I'm okay with that being an all-meat diet or a no-meat diet, or anywhere in between.
I don't have quick answer. Even a lot of grassfed producers aren't necessarily improving their landscapes. To begin with, where are you located?
Let me know
My name is David Harris
And here's an economic argument: Industrially-produced meat is the only way to provide for the current appetite for animal flesh. Eat less meat has a long way to go before it cuts into your livelihood. You should be advocating for higher prices that will have the meat consumer paying enough to demand free grazing animals and put the most cruel industrial slaughter operations out of business.
Also the cows did a lot of damage to the land and I suspect the small lakes. Without the cows there are more mice and birds looking for them.
Industrial meat production is very damaging whereas more caring meat production is obviously better but I still think that humans need to eat less meat for many reasons, methane being one important one.
While your grazing practices sound remarkable, and no doubt environmentally beneficial, your arguments objecting to the "eat less meat" movement aren't persuasive. Given the volume of meat consumption in the developed world, it is utterly unrealistic to think that that demand can ever be satisfied by enlightened practices like yours. Satisfying the demand for Big Macs now requires clear-cutting the Amazon rainforest, and imprisoning cattle in feedlots; or at least McDonalds thinks so, and does. That demand will never be met by sustainable farming like yours. Bovine methane production is a major contributor to global warming, and only fewer cattle will reduce that. So yes, better grazing practices are certainly beneficial for whatever meat it produces, but only producing less of it overall can save the planet.
Your stewardship of the land is laudable, but advocating more meat consumption, rather than less, is misguided.
Good writing and sharing of your experience! As an old age and owner running cattle for 20 years, I couldn't agree more.. We run a few head of cattle on our ranch because the Land Needs Them!
They have a good life, happy cows, a real bull, get to mature, breed, nurse their calves all they want and live out a good life! No antibiotics, no growth hormones, grass fed and sometimes a little hay but hope you also write about the crisis when Roundup began to contaminate alfalfa.Tragic! Keep up the good work
You think you are grazing sustainably, but you are taking food and land away from wildlife. Further, there is not enough land to supply the volume of meat that humans consume. Meat is a major issue in the destruction of our planet, the same way tobacco is a major issue in lung cancer. However you tweak them, they are unhealthy and should be quit entirely.
A lot of this has to do with how grass plants and some forbs and shrubs grow, at least in much of the West and Mediterranean climates. What's not eaten or trampled by animals chokes out further growth. Generally speaking, wildlife populations aren't sufficient for keeping this stuff cycled; consequently, the plants die back, the wildlife lose feed, and land degrades. I graze cattle because of my love for wildlife, and as such, I tailor my grazing to support more growth, not less.
1.97% of meat is factory farme
2. Less than 3% is "pasture fed"
3. USDA allows pasture fed to consume 20% forage, mostly gmo alfalfa
4. Less than 1% is organic
5. Western riparian corridors have been degrade by grazing lifestock
6. The proportion using expensive "restorative" grazing to prouce meat only the elites can afford is less than 1%.
7. There is no need for meat: people live longer and do less harm to the environment on a plant-based diet.
Note that I don't advocate for grassfed wholesale, but rather for meat that improves its environs to sustain the health of the very life support systems you describe.
Good luck in your work.
Anyone know of a farm in eastern Iowa who is doing this?
we're modeling our tiny retirement farm on the subsistence techniques we saw in subsaharan africa during our 5 1/2 years working in agricultural development there. yes, we saw denuded ranges from massive over-grazing due to population pressures, but we also saw some of the most intensively productive and diverse plots we've ever seen by village farmers who have taken good small-farming practices and adapted them to fit their needs and culture. animal husbandry is an integral part of this.
it has been rewarding looking for ways to incorporate some of this on our plot. in 3 years, our very marginal paddocks have blossomed into lush pasture for our handful of sheep.
The land I work in seems to benefit significantly from animal impact and herbivory, since it co-evolved with such for millennia. I hope one day that can come from wild animals and not domesticated ones; in the meantime, I'm doing what seems best for the sake of the whole landscape to sustain and improve its health. We need to work on a lot of things at a watershed scale and beyond (not too big, not too small) to address what it takes to support and grow populations of wild herbivores. A lot of folks talk about the rights of nature, but then put up 8' fences around their properties, and drive so fast that deer and coyote get massacred on the roads. It's a big problem we'll all have to work on together to get real change.
But, as to the rest, I don't think it's wrong to kill animals, so we're at an impasse there.
Yes we are all going to have to eat less meat .
As a person who has made the switch to vegan now I realize that because of world population we will need to be a lot of vegans and a small a number of meat eaters ( or none ) who eat maybe a couple to a few ounces of flesh food a week . Then we will be able to range happily a reasonable number of cows or other animals to have a good life .
No matter free range or terrible factory farmed cows they ALL go through the same inhumane transporation and huge slaughter houses .
Slaughter houses and the transporting of animals with no food or water in freezing or boiling temps must stop now too !
We need to stop looking at animals as a commodity . These are sentient individual beings that deserve our respect and great compassion , especially if they are going to end up nurishing our bodies .
Pasture raising livestock is not better for the environment than factory farming:
Cattle ranching is a leading cause of deforestation around the world:
Feeding the world without further deforestation is theoretically possible on a plant-based diet, but not on an animal-heavy diet:
Some environmentalists actually argue for factory farming as a more sustainable alternative to pasture raising. Obviously as an ethical vegan I don't agree, but just putting it out here for perspective:
Historically bison were the dominant grazer on the Northern Great Plains landscape. This dominance shaped the landscape by affecting the pattern and structure of the grasses and vegetation that grew. Expansive areas of native grasslands allowed animals to flourish along with many species of other prairie wildlife.
If grassland conservation is the goal, perhaps it's better to be open to using whatever strategies (or animals) can help achieve that. In very large prairies, bison may be the best fit – given costs, etc.
Beyond this, there are the impacts of allowing grazing on federal lands at taxpayer expense and appropriate management of conflicts with predators necessary to the ecosystem too. The kill mentality management method needs to be updated to a collaboration management methodology that requires exhaustion of non-lethal deterrents before lethal force among other considerations.
Personally, I don't eat beef or bison, or any land animal for that matter. Then, there is the matter of human overpopulation - the land can also only stand so much and we will need to find alternative solutions to our diets. But, the majority of people in this country who eat at McDonald's or other fast food restaurants aren't going to be able to afford to consume this meat.
Animal agriculture is destroying the environment and causing the sixth mass extinction of species which is going on right now. It takes 10-15 times more land to produce meat than plants. So to help the ecosystem we need to stop animal agriculture alltogether, which means less land needed for food production -> more more space for wild animals and ecosystems to thrive.
Wild ruminants used to graze our landscape, and the existing species that survive on their own, can be regenerated - and then leave them the f*** alone.
After reading a number of your replies in the comments I realize that's not what you're suggesting. Nevertheless, that was the impression I got from the article, and perhaps why it has gotten at least some portion of the backlash in the comments (let's face it, it's the internet, there will be some backlash in the comments). I guess my concern is that's going to lead some portion, potentially a large one, of your target audience to tune out altogether.
Quite a few of my friends and many of the YouTube creators I regularly watch have stated they agree with the overall vegetarian/vegan position, but nevertheless don't feel they can give up meat. That's the target market right there. People who want to make a difference, but still want to eat meat. I'm no expert in this area, so I won't claim to know how to connect those particular dots. But I feel like there is a potential market to be had, it's just a question of threading the needle to reach out to them. I'm not sure writing a counterpoint to "eat less meat" was necessarily the way to go. But then I read the article and I learned a good deal from it that I hope to pass on to those folks I know who still do eat meat. So perhaps it is a successful approach.
It is vital that we take meat consumption down to one serving per person per day at a kind of absolute maximum, hence "eat less meat."
The problem is that you function as a kind of priest: if I buy a steak from you, I'm absolving my sins of eating industrial meat, because I'm showing that I care. Further, reading this, I see this picture of the rancher/hero/environmentalist that you are, so when I go to the supermarket I will find words like "grass-fed" and other meaningless stuff like this on the package, vaguely remember your advice and fall into the trap.
Now sure, should I fly to Brooklyn to the retro/hipster butcher shop to buy your, or your equivalent's, meat? Sure. Can I practically do this? Can the vast majority of Americans practically do this?
Now the actual solution to a lot of this is that the price of meat should probably be about what you sell it for (which when you say you don't make money I assume is reasonable). This would solve the problem, as only rich people could eat meat every day. But that's okay. That's the way people lived not so long ago-- the Sunday roast actually meant something. But since government policy isn't changing anytime soon, so in the meantime, my only option is to try to reduce the amount of meat I eat, since I can't afford the kind of proper meat you sell.
So now we get to your real problem: that your target market doesn't want to see itself as rich. That, I don't know what to say to you about that. "Go ahead and eat a lot of meat, that's what you're supposed to do as rich people" doesn't sell as well as your citizen/rancher/environmentalist story I suppose.
Please understand, I'm not criticizing. In fact, just the opposite. Your article is wonderful but it feels like it's only written for a small audience, people who understand what a "grazier" is and what they do for the environment. While you describe your job beautifully it seems very distant from the daily life of the rest of us and, because of that, your ideas seem distant as well.
I'm not sure what I'm expecting by writing this comment but I do hope it's possible to figure out a way to move these ideas into the mainstream social consciousness. There are probably many barriers I'm unaware of that will make this hard to do but one of the ones I can imagine is that the system you're describing everything sounds like nostalgia, maybe even a call back to the "cowboy days." If you or someone work with can "modernize" your ideas and present them in a form that looks towards the future instead of bringing up beautiful visions of the past, you may find a larger audience and the ability to make the bigger impact you desire. Thank you.
PS--The great PNW always needs salmon farmers!! You would be helping to clean up the real issue these days for enviormentalists....that nasty mess that is now our world's oceans.
The ancient human male, on the other hand, did kill animals for their meat because the innocent animals did not see man as a threat to themselves and were easiley approched and killed.