Not all Meat is Created Equal - Part 03
How Grazing can Heal the Planet
For optimal grazing, an agroecosystem is given time to heal and reconstruct its root structure before animals - cows, sheep, and goats - are brought back to the land. This process aims to mimic the way that wild herds move across grasslands - interacting with soil microbes and plant roots to catalyze the sequestration of carbon back into the soil. Regenerative grazing seeks to humanely integrate livestock and crop production while working to ensure land regeneration, animal welfare, and profitability. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Joel Salatin, the owner of Polyface Farm, highlights the degenerative nature of ruminants taking a “second bite” of grass before it has had the chance to fully recover.
Impacts on Animal Welfare
In addition to being treated with respect, grass-fed cattle enjoy lives where they are not “finished” on grain and drug-based diets that wreak havoc on their wellbeing. The relationship between regenerative ranchers and livestock is based on three core tenets:
- Forage - Ruminants are born, raised, and finished on pastures where grasses, legumes, and post-harvest crop residue without grain are the primary energy sources.
- No confinement - Animals graze on open pasture and are allowed to fulfill their natural behaviors and basic instincts at all times.
- Animal health - The feeding of animal by-products, antibiotics, ionophores, or hormones of any type is prohibited.
Impacts on the Environment
While CAFOs rape the environments around them, causing an onslaught of pollution along the way, regenerative grazing systems rebuild nearby ecosystems - increasing organic soil matter and biodiversity. In 2019, Quantis published a life cycle assessment of White Oaks Pastures (WOP), a 3,200-acre regenerative farm in Georgia. Over the last 25 years, Will Harris III, the owner of WOP, has also acquired neighboring properties, which allowed scientists to study fields that were holistically managed for different lengths of time.
The study determined that Harris’ beef operation:
- Was 6x more carbon-efficient than the average North American production system
- Yielded net total emission of negative 3.5 kg of carbon for every kg of beef produced
- Had a carbon footprint 111% lower than the conventional US beef operation
- Increased soil matter from 1% to 5% on acquired fields
- Offset 85% of the farm’s total carbon emissions
Impacts on Human Health
With CAFOs and large-scale processing plants emerging as hotbeds for pollution, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and COVID-19 outbreaks, regenerative grazing offers us a future where livestock can work in tandem with nature to create healthy and ethical animal products that can also heal the planet. It is important to emphasize the differences in nutritional value between grass-fed and grain-fed (CAFO) cattle. According to a peer-reviewed study published in the Nutrition Journal, cattle fed primarily grass and hay:
- Produce a healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids
- Demonstrate higher precursors in cancer-fighting antioxidants - e.g. GT, SOD, and CAT
- Have a seven-fold increase in beta-carotene (vitamin A) levels
- Have a three-fold increase in α-tocopherol (vitamin E) levels
- Have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids
- Tend to be lower in total fat content
How can I Support the (Moo)vement?
Consumer sovereignty is an economic concept where individual decisions influence production. By allocating our financial resources towards the regenerative and grass-fed sectors, we can work towards a shared goal of reforming the broken livestock industry. The best way to “vote” for change is by purchasing animal products from local farmers and butchers. Check out the resources below to find high-quality producers near you:
- American Grassfed Association - AGA offers an interactive map of the U.S. farmers who meet its stringent certification program for grass-fed meat and dairy and products.
- Local Harvest - A directory of over 40,000 family farms and farmers’ markets, along with restaurants and grocery stores that feature local, sustainable goods.
- Cornucopia Institute - A non-profit consumer education and “watchdog” organization that elevates the best farmers across the country.
If you are still on the hunt for grass-fed and finished meat, we recommend Wholesome Meats, a Texas-based company offering premium, regenerative beef that is as good for the land as it is for the consumer. You can find Wholesome Meats online, in grocery stores, and at mission-aligned restaurants across San Antonio, Austin, and northern Utah. In place of centralization and specialization, consumers must play a role in propagating a new system of livestock production - one based on diversifying farms, decentralizing processing, eliminating chemical inputs, and optimizing for biodiversity.
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