On the nine hour bus ride from Johannesburg, South Africa to Maputo, Mozambique yesterday, I had a chance to read the latest TIME Magazine and was surprised—and pleased—to see an article on an issue that Worldwatch has been covering for a long time—the benefits of grass-fed livestock systems for the climate.
The article highlights how not all meat is created equal. All of the ingredients used to raise livestock conventionally—including artificial fertilizers and monocultures of maize and soybeans—are highly dependent on fossil fuels. In addition, modern meat production requires massive land use changes that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, including the destruction of grasslands and rainforests in South America and the degradation of ranging lands in Africa (See the Worldwatch report: Mitigating Climate Change Through Food and Land Use).
Rotational grazing systems, on the other hand, can actually sequester carbon in soils. And because the animals are eating grass, not grain, artificial fertilizer isn’t required to produce feed. These systems also don’t have to rely on the long-distance transportation of fertilizer, grain, or other inputs. And while the manure produced at confined animal feed operations, or CAFOs, is often considered toxic waste because it is produced in such massive quantities, the manure produced on smaller-scale farms is considered a valuable resource, helping to fertilize crops.
While raising—and eating— grass-fed beef might not completely reverse climate change, it’s a valuable tool for producers and consumers alike in helping lower the amount of GHGs emitted because of our food choices.