(IMPACT REPORT 2019)
REGENERATIVE GRAZING: THE "CLEAN COAL" OF BEEF
Regenerative grazing sounds like an appealing pitch: If only we could restore ecosystems, fight climate change and build a more sustainable food system – by using the exact same technology that compromises those very things!
Livestock grazing has been posited as a solution for climate change, benefitting recently from a widely-publicized, and now very(opens in a new tab) thoroughly(opens in a new tab) debunked(opens in a new tab), series of talks by rancher Allan Savory and other proponents of regenerative grazing. They claim that the road to ecological salvation must come through more farmed animals, and more grazing, for a mystical alignment of soil and hoof.
Whatever the branding – regenerative grazing, holistic grass-fed beef, “carbon positive” grazing – none are sustainable at scale, and all are insufficient to feed the growing demand for meat and dairy products.
Iterating on animal farming will not stop the climate crisis, and it will not alleviate rampant deforestation(opens in a new tab). A transformative reduction in demand for farmed animals is the best and only course forward to safely and securely feed another 2 billion citizens of Earth.
While no rancher or farmer wants to damage the land they manage, grazing is an inherently environmentally impactful activity(opens in a new tab), whether from a wild animal, or a domesticated one. The reason that grazing is currently a problem is because human consumption of animals for meat is at an unprecedented scale. Diligent stewardship of herd density and rangeland health is better than unchecked and unmanaged animal farming – but compared to the intact natural ecosystem that it disrupts(opens in a new tab), livestock grazing competes with wildlife(opens in a new tab) for space and for food, contributes to erosion, and through feeding, converts vegetation that would otherwise capture carbon into a source of greenhouse gases. In most cases, industrial feedlot beef actually requires less natural resources(opens in a new tab) and generates less greenhouse gas than does grass-fed beef.
And there’s no way to feed the market: Recent research has demonstrated that less than a quarter of US beef demand could be met with grass-fed production, and doing so would pump out more than 40% more GHGs than current industrial system(opens in a new tab). Global consumers will never decide to voluntarily, radically, reduce their meat intake – the inherent flaw in every grass-fed, holistic, regenerative proposition.
Sure, regenerative grazing may beat industrial bovine strip mining on a couple of fronts – but it’s all still rooted in the same inefficiency of animal metabolism(opens in a new tab). Plant-based meat technology provides the means to reverse the whole unsustainable system – and with a 60 to 70% global increase in projected meat demand in the next two decades, the plant-based meat sector is growing just in time.
THE ONLY SCALABLE SOLUTION
With about half of the world’s ice free land already(opens in a new tab) recruited for animal farming, reliance on any animal system sets our food system on the wrong track. It’s the sheer scale of global demand for meat: the global population of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish is less than half what it was just 40 years ago, largely due to the impact of animal-based food production. Cattle raised for food currently outweigh every remaining wild terrestrial vertebrate on Earth – mammal, bird, reptile and amphibian – by more than a factor of 10. Pigs raised for food outweigh every remaining wild terrestrial vertebrate on Earth by more than a factor of two. And chickens raised for food outweigh every remaining wild bird Earth by more than a factor of three.
Creating meat directly from plants benefits human health and translates into a sustainable future.
– UN Environment, 2018
Rather than continuing to sacrifice global wildlife and biodiversity to satisfy our craving for animal meat, plant-based meat fills the market demand with positive repercussions for the planet. Whether from Impossible Foods or from others in the burgeoning plant-based meat sector, this transformative change is not only possible – it’s inevitable.
1. Ketcham, Christopher. “Allan Savory’s Holistic Management Theory Falls Short on Science.” The Sierra Club, 23 Feb 2017 https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2017-2-march-april/feature/allan-savory-says-more-cows-land-will-reverse-climate-change(opens in a new tab)
2. McWilliams, James. “All Sizzle and No Steak: Why Allan Savory’s TED talk about how cattle can reverse global warming is dead wrong.” Slate, 22 April 2013, https://slate.com/human-interest/2013/04/allan-savorys-ted-talk-is-wrong-and-the-benefits-of-holistic-grazing-have-been-debunked.html(opens in a new tab)
3. Alkemade, Rob, Robin S. Reid, Maurits van den Berg, Jan de Leeuw, and Michel Jeuken. 2013. “Assessing the Impacts of Livestock Production on Biodiversity in Rangeland Ecosystems.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 110 (52): 20900–905.
4. Capper, Judith L. 2012. “Is the Grass Always Greener? Comparing the Environmental Impact of Conventional, Natural and Grass-Fed Beef Production Systems.” Animals 2 (2). Molecular Diversity Preservation International: 127–43.
5. Hayek, M.N. and R.D. Garrett. 2018. “Nationwide shift to grass-fed beef requires larger cattle population”. Environmental Research Letters. 13--8
6. Reid, R., Gichohi, H., Said, M., Nkedianye, D., Ogutu, J., Kshatriya, M., . . . Bagine, R. 2008. Fragmentation of a Peri-Urban Savanna, Athi-Kaputiei Plains, Kenya. Fragmentation in Semi-Arid and Arid Landscapes, 195-224.
7. Veblen, Kari E., Lauren M. Porensky, Corinna Riginos, and Truman P. Young. 2016. “Are Cattle Surrogate Wildlife? Savanna Plant Community Composition Explained by Total Herbivory More than Herbivore Type.” Ecological Applications: A Publication of the Ecological Society of America 26 (6): 1610–23.
8. Shepon, A., Eshel, G., Noor, E., & Milo, R. 2016. Energy and protein feed-to-food conversion efficiencies in the US and potential food security gains from dietary changes. Environmental Research Letters, 11(10), 105002.