Meat has become political for many reasons related to health, animal welfare, pollution, worker safety and more recently due to our climate challenges. The vast majority of the critical issues emerge from CAFOs and the industrial or factory-farm approach to meat production. The animals are not living a lifestyle to which they are adapted and thus suffer from stress. These large operations concentrate sources of animal waste. Too often, the manure results in ground and surface water pollution. In many cases this impacts water supplies for cities, towns and farm communities. CAFOs also emit large quantities of methane and ammonia that harm humans and the climate. The unnatural continuous concentration of large numbers of animals requires overuse of antibiotics to suppress disease outbreaks. Researchers believe such use of antibiotics breeds bacterial resistance and each year more humans die of uncontrollable infections.
CAFOs also depend on the massive industrial grain and soy complex that generates feed for confined animals. These commodity crops use the most fossil fuels, GE seeds, fertilizers and chemicals to control weeds and pests than any sector of agriculture. They are grown in monocrop systems with a multitude of negative impacts on the environment, including the climate.
CAFOs are a bad idea in all ways except they produce cheap meat and allow the industry to profit by externalizing the real costs of production. We believe CAFO production should be phased out by the middle of this century. We support and have participated in California’s development of sane regulations designed to end the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture.
It is also clear that in some regions of the world row crops cannot be grown, such as rangeland and grasslands. But ruminants (hooved animals) can turn grass into nutrient dense protein. According the UN’s FAO, these ecosystems represent 26% of the planet’s land area and 70% of the agricultural area and 800 million people depend on foraging animals for their primary food and economic base. Hooved animals are also essential to the health of grassland ecosystems as the plants and herbivores are interdependent. Plants provide food for herbivores. Herbivores provide disturbance that spreads seed, deepens roots and delivers nutrients needed for growth in the form of manure and urine. It has been shown that livestock disturbance can contribute to restoration of land suffering from desertification. Livestock in rotation on grain and soy bean farms can have a positive impact on soil and farm resilience. Given these many factors we believe a regenerative and climate smart agriculture must include livestock.
There is a raging debate over the health consequences of eating meat. It was long believed that meat is bad for the heart and brain and fatty meats even worse because they raises levels of cholesterol. In recent years that belief has been challenged by deeper understanding about the impacts of different kinds of fat and the value of cholesterol to cell function. The key issue now understood is the ratio of healthy to unhealthy fat. Paleo, Keto and Carnivore diets are emerging as metabolically reparative for people suffering from obesity and Type II Diabetes, caused by overconsumption of added sugar and carbohydrates. Fat and meat consumption can diminish hunger and can be helpful to those seeking to lower carbohydrate consumption. There is now clarity on the real value of some fats for maintaining health.
Research in recent years shows that grazing animals that complete their lives eating grasses produce higher levels of healthy fats and several other benefits, including reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Responsible meat production requires that operators use holistic management or management intensive grazing that mimics natural systems in whatever climate they are operating. This may include the use of multiple species in sequence in a single field or paddock to ignite positive ecological and biological synergies. Animals must not overgraze or under-graze rangeland to keep it healthy. There is a plethora of data and models for achieving this balance now available to livestock producers worldwide. We believe that grass-finished meat is the right choice for the climate, people, animals and agricultural lands.
Finally, we believe that to end the age of CAFOs, and promote grass-finished meat, we must reintegrate pasture-raised livestock into all sizes and most types of farms. This will require both research and innovative entrepreneurship, and new policies, all of which are being studied and modeled in many places around the globe.