Grass Fed Meat: our true environmental savior


By The Nourisher

This article was originally published here and is part of the January 2009 round up.

How many times have you heard that we need to eat more vegetarian fare to curb Climate Change? Greepeace and even David Suzuki put it in their top ten actions we can take. It seems every green magazine I pick up, every green blog I read, I’m shamed for living as what my body is designed to be, an omnivore. This makes me feel very sad and a little angry. Here’s why:

  1. The current population of cattle in the US is only marginally more than the numbers the Native Bison (or Buffalo) enjoyed before Europeans arrived: 96 million cattle have replaced most of the estimated 60 to 100 million Bison that existed in the 19th century. How could there be too many cattle now? This is how..
    The figures Suzuki and Greenpeace are working from actually reveal what industrial factory farming is using and outputting. The ancient practice of subsistence grass farming is a totally different picture. Much of the resources used for the beef industry are used in the production of grains fed to confined cattle. There is no reason for this except to boost the bottom line of ‘agricorp’ companies. No ruminant should be eating grain or soy. Industrial agriculture only does so because governments subsidise their feed.
  2. It is very easy to throw about grandiose, knee jerk recommendations which get headlines but it is Greenpeace’s very followers who will suffer from living by them. I live in Byron Bay, some call it a vegetarian paradise. Australia’s modern affair with vegetarianism began right here, more than 30 years ago. Looking around me, I witness first hand the ravages such a diet leaves in it’s wake. Young, idealistic 20 somethings may not notice immediately the affects of such a diet. However, coming into their 50s and 60s now, I see many long time vegetarians; exhausted, overwhelmed and caffeine addicted from years of underNourishing themselves. (BTW It takes 140 Litres of water to make enough coffee for one cup. I challenge you to find a vegetarian who isn’t caffeine addicted. I haven’t yet.)
    Many lose their creativity and the naturally buoyant, positive attitude which is our birthright. Many wind up, infertile, unmotivated, ineffective and resentful without knowing why. Greenpeace needs robust, energetic, creative people to work with them toward change. Their recommendations threaten to deny them and our Earth of just this.
  3. Grass fed, properly managed animal foods are actually a great way to sequester many billions of metric tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere.

To be more responsible, Greenpeace should recommend we boycott confined, grain fed animal foods and demand grass fed animal foods. Is that too complicated for our ‘dumbed down’ population?

Some Facts about Grass Fed Meat
  • Grazing land comprises more than half the total land surface of the Earth.
  • Soil organic carbon is the largest reservoir in interaction with the atmosphere. It contains 82% of terrestrial carbon.
  • Forests can be net carbon emitters in their early stages and take many years to reach their sequestration potential
  • “An acre of pasture can sequester more carbon than an acre of forest.” We can offset the nations entire emissions, simply by planting more grass either as winter crops or instead of crops. – Dr Chistine Jones of the Carbon Coalition.
  • “Soil represents the largest carbon sink over which we have control. Improvements in soil carbon levels could be made in all rural areas, whereas the regions suited to carbon sequestration in plantation timber are limited.” – Dr Christine Jones
  • 50% to 66% of the historic carbon loss (42 to 78 gigatons of carbon) was created by the world’s poorly managed, degraded agricultural soils and is therefore ripe to become the world’s greatest carbon sink.


Difference between carbon farming pasture (right) and ordinary pasture: courtesy of the Carbon Farmer’s of Australia Association.

  • Introducing carbon credits for grass farmers who manage their grazing so they actually sequester carbon will also help improve water retention and soil erosion issues.

Raising grain-fed cattle is resource-intensive. It takes more than 35 fossil fuel calories to create one calorie of energy from grain-fed meat. A cow must consume about 8 pounds of grain (3.6kg) in order to yield one pound of meat (450gm), grain which is grown with fossil fuels and pesticides. Much of the exorbitant water use in grain feeding CAFOs is for cleaning the tonnes of waste, waste that in grass farming is a vital resource for soil fertility. Why do this when you can just let the cow go on the grass? Answer: corporate ‘bottom line’ industrial farming.

The ‘methane cattle fart’ statistic we hear all the time is taken from the writings of Dr Andrew Moxey, a widely respected economist who exposed modern agriculture’s contribution to emissions. He says “methane from livestock accounts for 20 per cent of green house gas emissions”, but reading just a little further, you’ll find he also says: “nitrous oxide from fertilizer adds up to 26 per cent [and] carbon dioxide from ploughing up grassland is the major contributor…45 per cent“.

What is on the agenda of people who continually misquote Moxey?

What environmentalists are saying is we should eat the grains instead of the cattle. What they don’t realise is neither we nor the cattle need the grains. They don’t realise this because they’ve been indoctrinated into the idea that we can (and should) eat a grain based diet. No mind that our ancestors never did. No mind that following a grain based diet has brought us to the point where 8% of the western population suffer diabetes (this is expected to quadruple by 2050). No mind that by 2020, 80% of all Australian adults and a third of all children will be overweight or obese. 37% of American Children are already overweight and the CDC predict that figure will be 50% by 2020. It also predicts that the generation of children who are currently under 10 years old are unlikely to outlive their parents.

Even so the USDA still recommends we continue with the sudden diet change that they initiated post world war II. (Please note the USDA food pyramid is created by the US Department of Agriculture – not the US department of Nutrition nor the US department of Health.) Before their self serving dietary recommendations, humans had never tried to consume 6 servings of grain foods. That’s three sandwiches a day. We couldn’t grow, harvest and process that much grain by hand. Only with the advent of the petrol driven harvest combine and industrial processing (dollars for the new manufacturing giants of the 50s) could we even consider eating this much grain, let alone feed it to our livestock. So why is it now the only other option to vegetarianism?


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