Is eating meat really bad for the environment?
In celebration of Earth Day this week, we'd like to cover a controversial topic of whether meat is good or bad for the environment. Many believe when examining our own individual carbon footprints that eliminating meat is the easiest and best way to reduce your carbon impact and save the environment. In cases of mass production livestock, this is true. Most of us are aware that mass production, factory farming is terrible. It is cruel to the animals, it decimates the land, it ruins the soil, and it is extremely unhealthy for human consumption. No one is really debating the notion that this form of agriculture is evil or bad for our planet.
However, is that the only way we can consume meat? No, there are opportunities for us to consume meat that is raised and sourced in ways that not only are ethical and environmentally responsible, but also support the livelihood of animals and our health as humans.
First, let me explain that trying to "shame meat" and replace meat with plant based “meat” is absolutely not the answer. Plant based meat is extremely unhealthy and still has quite a high carbon footprint, due to the fact that most are made with soil-damaging monocrops. The answer is to move towards a regenerative agricultural model, just as nature has done for millions of years. This means rotating ruminant animals on pasture lands, forming a symbiotic relationship in which the animals keep the grass trim, their poop fertilizes the land and regenerates the soil, leading to lush grasses and prairie that actually trap more carbon back into the earth than the animals produce themselves. This is the true answer to environmental and human health.
The firm called Quantis conducted a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study, on beef raised at White Oak Pastures, which is the farm from which we source the vast majority of our meat. The LCA is performed to “account for the energy and environmental impacts of all stages of a product’s life cycle, such as the acquisition of raw materials, the production process, handling of waste byproducts, and more.” This study gives us a comprehensive picture of what is actually happening in a regenerative agriculture model. The LCA analyzed the farm’s total greenhouse gas footprint, and took soil samples to measure carbon content of the soil.
The findings were quite dramatic and unexpected. The LCA found that “White Oak Pastures’ holistically managed fields went from 1 percent soil organic matter to 5 percent.” This means increased soil health, soil resilience, and stability. Since becoming a regenerative farm over 25 years ago, White Oak has realized improved biodiversity, better water retention by the soil, more resilience against pests and disease, and holistic management of cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, rabbits, geese, guineas, turkey, chickens, and ducks.
The overall conclusion of the LCA was that “the conversion of annual cropland to perennial pasture, holistic grazing and other regenerative management practices such as compost application had the side effect of storing more carbon in the soil than their cows emit during their lives. “ White Oak is a zero-waste farm. They are offsetting at least 100 percent of their carbon emissions from beef and as much as 85% of the farm’s total carbon emissions.
For every pound of beef produced at White Oak, 3.5 pounds of carbon are sequestered from the atmosphere back into the earth. Compare that to the Impossible Burger, which actually GENERATES 3.5 pounds of emissions for every pound of product. Another fun stat is that White Oak sequestered 919 tons of CO2 in the soil in 2017, equivalent to switching 31,679 incandescent light bulbs to LEDs.
This is clearly a sustainable path forward. It is imperative that we continue to fight climate change, while also maintaining human health and vitality. This model offers a viable path for planetary health and human health moving forward.
As Taylor Collins, co-founder of EPIC Provisions says, “Raising Meat the right way really can save the planet.”