How Grass Fed Cows Could Save the World!
Over the years, vegetarian groups and environmentalists have advocated the policy that “less meat= less heat.” However, that is not necessarily always the case. In the past, cows, other livestock, and their consumers have been cited as environmentally detrimental because of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from housing the livestock, and the livestock themselves. In 2006, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reported that 18% of the world’s man-made greenhouse gas emissions comes from livestock. Cows especially take the fall because they are fed more energy-intensive feed than other livestock and emit more methane than other livestock.
Massachusetts cattle farmer Ridge Shinn blames modern methods of cattle raising for environmental problems with cattle farming that have risen. “Conventional cattle raising is like mining. It’s unsustainable, because you’re just taking without putting anything back,” says Shinn. The modern methods include carefully grown food and tightly packed feedlots. To grow the food, farmers use environmentally harmful pesticides and fertilizers. When cows are put into feedlots, they are stuffed with feed, producing copious amounts of methane in one spot. “But when you rotate cattle on grass, you change the equation. You put back more than you take,” says Shinn, affirming the eco-friendliness of grass-fed cattle. When farmers rotate cattle on pastures, it allows perennial grass to fully recover on a previously eaten field without the use of pesticides to do so. The cows’ manure and other organic matter is trampled into the ground, turning it into rich soil, which holds carbon dioxide in the soil better than normal soil. Raising cattle on grass also puts previously unproductive land to work and pastured beef is healthier.
Critics make valid points: pastured meat is much more expensive and it takes 2 to 3 years to get grass-fed cows up to slaughter weight. But, organic farmers like Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman plan to raise grass-fed beef. “A vegetarian eating tofu made in a factory from soybeans grown in Brazil is responsible for a lot more carbon dioxide than I am,” says Coleman. Who says that you can’t be environmentally friendly without being a vegetarian?