Fight climate change: eat more meat

Huh? Isn’t meat production one of the major causes of global warming? Well, yes… but according to Lisa Hamilton, author of Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness, eating meat raised under the right conditions can actually help mitigate climate change.

In a post at Audubon Magazine‘s blog, Hamilton argues that livestock raised as part of a larger sustainable farming operation (not the much more prevalent confined animal feeding operation) keeps greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture to a minimum. Citing the example of farmer Jason Mann, Hamilton observes:

Mann thinks of it like a bank account: Every time he harvests an ear of corn or a head of lettuce, he withdraws from the soil’s fertility; if he doesn’t redeposit that fertility, the account will hit zero. He could truck in compost from 250 miles away, or apply synthetic fertilizers to make the vegetables grow. But by his carbon calculation the best option is to return that fertility by using livestock, particularly cows. They do more than keep his soil rich. When managed properly, cattle can boost soil’s ability to sequester carbon. Their manure adds organic matter to the soil, their grazing symbiotically encourages plant growth, and their heavy hooves help break down dead plant residue. Some proponents argue that highly managed, intensive grazing can shift cattle’s carbon count so dramatically that the animals actually help reduce greenhouse gases.

The kicker: in order to make this arrangement economically sustainable, Mann must eventually slaughter these cattle and sell the meat: “If they stand around eating all day but never produce more than manure, they are a net loss.” So choosing to eat meat produced as a part of a larger agricultural ecosystem supports sustainable farming economically… and contributes to lower greenhouse gas emissions. As Hamilton notes, “…if you want to use your food choices to impact climate change, by all means follow… [suggestions] for a meatless Monday. But on Tuesday, have a grass-fed burger-and feel good about it.”

Does that mean vegetarians should rethink their position? Not necessarily… there are a whole host of reasons to follow a plant-based diet. But carnivores can do their part by ensuring the meat they do consume comes from sustainable, humane sources.

via Utne Environment

Image credit: John-Morgan at Flickr under a Creative Commons license