A recent article by Alan Broughton on the Green Left Weekly website discusses the ongoing argument of how much methane is contributed into the atmosphere by livestock. While there is little argument about the environmental footprint of the conventional feedlot livestock industry (ala “Livestock’s Long Shadow”), there is considerable confusion about just how helpful or harmful planned grazing is to creating a carbon neutral or carbon positive food product.
For many foodies, the cry is eat small quantities of grassfed meat. The belief appears to be that meat, particularly red meat, is still considered a ticking time bomb for human and planetary health. Despite the science quoted in Defending Beef by Nicolette Hahn Niman in 2014, the news that red meat can be healthy for humans and for the planet has not made it into mainstream media. The result is many carnivores still feel torn about eating meat if they have environmental tendencies. Yet, there is plenty of research that shows how regenerative grazing does in fact, sequester carbon and methane.
The Green Left Weekly article focuses specifically about the issue of methane as that greenhouse gas is perceived as being one of the most devastating and directly tied to the belching of ruminating animals. But, as Mr. Broughton points out, we’ve actually had more belching animals than we currently do and it wasn’t a problem because the methanotrophic bacteria in soil could use the methane for food and neutralize the methane. The methane becomes a liability rather than an asset when fertilizers and herbicides kill that methanotrophic bacteria. The good news is that this bacteria can reactivate in biologically managed soil (soils on landscapes using regenerative practices like planned grazing, cover crops, etc that feed the soil).
Mr. Broughton also notes the carbon sequestering capabilities of grasslands compared to forests: “In the top one metre of soils in temperate grasslands there is an average of 236 tonnes of carbon, compared to 96 in temperate forest soils and 80 in cropland.” This potential is even more reason to vote with your food dollars by buying from those grassland producers who are engaged in regenerative practices and creating healthy soil.
Regardless of whether you eat meat or have a vegetarian diet, the data is clear that regenerative agricultural practices that feed the biology in the soil are critical in creating nutrient dense food that is good for human health and the planet. Click here to find a Holistic Management producer or educator near you. Click here to learn more about how Holistic Management helps improve soil and sequester carbon.
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