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Pasture-fed livestock needs to be seen as part of the climate change solution, not the problem.

9th Sep 2019

SOURCE: Pasture for Life and the Global Warming Solution (June, 2019)

There are multiple climate change news articles which refer to livestock as a primary contributor to atmospheric warming. However, it can be seen that 100% grass fed animals can in fact have a positive effect on the environment and climate chnage . 

- Pasture-fed livestock are better for the environment: Sheep and cattle that are 100% grassland or pasture-fed are a better choice for the environment compare to those animals which are grain-fed. When grassland and their soils are properly managed they can even be used to mitigate global warming. Farmers that rear their animals on grassland can improve the fertility and productivity of soils through grazing management and the returning of animal manures back to the soil. The spreading of livestock waste, allong with the permenant pastureland can contribute to carbon capture and storage in their soils as organic matter is trampled in and decomposed. The effects of drought and flooding are also reduced because the roots of a diverse pasture grow deep - improving soil structure and water retention. As well as this, currently two thirds of farmed land in the UK, and globally, is pasture, so it makes sense to graze cattle and sheep on pasture rather than feeding them grains. Cattle and sheep can convert grassland and other plants that humans cannot eat into meat and milk and make use of marginal lands, such as moorland and highland, which otherwise would be abandoned.

- Livestock and their CO2 and CH4 production which contribute to global warming: Cattle and sheep have not caused global warming, but sometimes, due to intensive rearing they can contribute towards it. The primary and main cause of global warning and associated climate change is mostly due to the burning of fossil fuels since the industrial revolution. Pasture-fed, grain-free production systems such as Pasture for Life, use existing pastures or land which has been converted from crop production (therefore do not involve the destruction of forests) have the potential to be carbon-neutral, when combined with mitigation schemes such as agro-forestry. It is ture that livestock producce methane emissions, however, these by-products will only become an issue if cattle and sheep populations increase, which they have not for many centuries (Herds have been at stable sizes for generations).

- Livestock and their high volume of Green House Gas (GHG) production: The conclusion made by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2006, was that cattle and sheep produced more GHGs than all (global) tranportation sector. However, the study upon which it was based did not compare like with like and was therefore biased. The investigation compared the total amount of GHG produced over the lifetime of an animal (Life Cycle Emission (LCE)) with just the direct emissions, not the full LCE of transport. This is relevant because transport produces GHG in other ways as well – through vehicle manufacturing, the extraction and refining of fuel. Grazing animals fed on pasture only have few, if any additional LCEs. Therefore, the comparison was very misleading and has now been corrected with only 5% of direct emissions being attributed to ALL livestock (including those intensively grain-fed) compared to 14% for transport.

-Pasture-fed vs grain-fed animals: Intensively reared, grain-fed livestock consume around one third of global grain production. It can take up to 7kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef on some intensive farms. This is an inefficient use of resources and makes grass-fed animals much more environmetally friendly as there is one factor cut out of the food chain. As well as this, there is less soil erosion, water usage, and greater natural diveristy. Cattle produced using grains rely heavily on fossil fuels to grow, fertilise, harvest, process and transport the grain, which is then fed to the animals. In contrast, pasture-fed cattle and sheep rely on existing grasslands and very little use of additional inputs.

- Concern for biodiveristy:  Farmers who take a more natural approach to farming by feeding their cattle and sheep only on pasture, inevitably introduce a wide range of wildlife into their fields. They allow their pastures to grow tall, sow a mixture of grasses and herbs, and plant trees and hedgerows, all of which build carbon in the soil as a deep and complex root system is built. The UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows since the 1950s. However, these are now being successfully restored due to incentives such as envrionmental schemes and grants which also allow animals to graze the land effectively, in a managed manner. Other rare grassland wildlife habitats also need grazing animals to sustain them, this can be built into rewilding programs, where livestock can be used to restore ecological and environmetal balance.

How can you ensure you're eating a pasture-fed good: If the food product is labelled with the ‘Pasture for Life’ certification mark (as seen above), it means the good will have come from animals reared exclusively on pasture.

To find out more on pasture-fed livestock and their postive and negatives click here or visit Pasture for Life