Posted by: terrapraeta | January 19, 2010

Eat More Beef

Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard!
While we’re in the mood —
Cold jelly and custard!
Pease pudding and saveloys!
What next is the question?
Rich gentlemen have it, boys —

Food, glorious food!
We’re anxious to try it.
Three banquets a day —
Our favourite diet!

from Oliver

So over the last few days an article from Time Magazine has been making the rounds: Save the Planet: Eat More Beef. It discusses the greenhouse gas emissions of cattle and the growing trend amongst first vegetarians and more recently, other environmental groups, opposing beef as a food source. The reason being that CAFO beef operations may produce more greenhouse gas emissions than even transportation.

I’ve known for a long time that cattle produce copious quantities of methane gas. It has been suggested that the end of the last ice age may be partially due to growing herds of cattle producing ever more and more methane. Perhaps. But then, based on this article, perhaps not.

According to the article, grass fed beef cattle have a negative net emissions level because their presence on range land increases the carbon sequestration of the soil beneath their hooves. Grazing increases the growth rates of grasses and churns the soil, incorporating the raw manure they drop every day, increasing the soils health and viability.

From the article:

“If you suspend a cow in the air with buckets of grain, then it’s a bad guy,” Harttung explains. “But if you put it where it belongs — on grass — that cow becomes not just carbon-neutral but carbon-negative.” Collins goes even further. “With proper management, pastoralists, ranchers and farmers could achieve a 2% increase in soil-carbon levels on existing agricultural, grazing and desert lands over the next two decades,” he estimates. Some researchers hypothesize that just a 1% increase (over, admittedly, vast acreages) could be enough to capture the total equivalent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

Nice. More permaculture principles in action. Of course, we do need to remember that our first problem with agricultural methods was overgrazing. The amount of land available for a cattle herd to graze must be of appropriate size to prevent this (Cattle prefer certain plants over others. A pasture is overgrazed not merely when it is stripped of plants, but much sooner, when preferred plants begin to lose integrity in the ecology.)

Another point mentioned in one of the discussions I read: cattle can be “pastured” in forested land. Regardless of the practice of destroying Amazonian rainforest to clear land for cattle grazing, this is not necessary, but rather a byproduct of totalitarian agricultural practices. For an alternative check out silvopasture.

Other comments intrigued me as well. One commentator railed against the “eat more beef” premise of the article. Obviously, consuming more is a bad idea, regardless of the product. But it seems clear to me that if one is going to eat meat, pastured cattle is a good choice, especially if you do the work to find it locally and direct from the farm. Others said, yes, but, that means cattle have to die… and we have addressed this before. For anything to eat, something must die. Each of us must decide how to deal with that fact. For me, it is all about respect.

In any case, it is nice to occasionally see mainstream sources putting out information that is potentially useful. Too often it’s all propaganda and merchandising. So when there is something different, I like to pass it along….



  1. I feel positively missionary about this. Finally, sense!!! Check out this Oz link… click on case studies and watch the pdf or pps slide show, it will blow you away.

  2. I’m happy to read this! (I love grass-fed beef.)

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