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Grazing

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Related Articles: Grass FedCattle

Fact Sheet

Assertion

  • This fact sheet supports the assertion that grazing, even if done using holistic management and regenerative grazing techniques, is not sustainable.

Context

  • Because grazing doesn't involve harvested crops, it is sometimes presented as a solution to the severe inefficiency of livestock in converting their feed, which is plant-base, into meat. (On average, it takes 24 calories of plant feed to produce one calorie of meat, dairy, or eggs.[1])
  • In a Ted Talk in 2013, Alan Savory presented his view that regenerative grazing and holistic management is a way to reverse climate change and desertification. The talk went viral with 2.7 million views.[2]

Research

  • A study led by Oxford and published by the Food Climate Research Group (FCRN) disputed the claims made for regenerative grazing, saying "The actual evidence is thin on the ground and contradictory." [3]
  • We simply don't have enough land. A 2018 Harvard study concluded that the US has enough pasture to support only 27% of the current beef production."[4]
  • A review published in the Agricultural Systems concludes that "the vast majority of experimental evidence does not support claims of enhanced ecological benefits in IRG compared to other grazing strategies, including the capacity to increase storage of soil organic carbon." [5]
  • A paper published in the International Journal of Biodiversity in 2014 titled "Holistic Management: Misinformation on the Science of Grazed Ecosystems" examined 5 claims of Holistic Management. None of the claims held up to scientific scrutiny and each claim was associated with a destructive, not beneficial as claimed, impact on the environment. [6]
  • The same study concluded that "a switch to purely grass-fed systems would likely result in higher environmental costs, including a 43% increase in methane emissions"[4] which the EPA says have 28 to 36 times more global warming potential than carbon.[7]

Other Sources

  • The Center for Biological Diversity says that "grazing wreaks ecological havoc on riparian areas, rivers, deserts, grasslands and forests alike — causing significant harm to species and the ecosystems on which they depend.[8]
  • While the beef industry is not the source of our assertions, even Beef Magazine "the beef cattle industry’s authoritative source,"[9] says that "the grain-fed model actually has the smallest footprint."[10]
  • Referring to Alan Savory, an article in The Wildlife News stated: "Holistic grazing guru pieces together false assumptions to produce ineffective but popular recommendations on climate change." [11]
  • According to George Monbiot, "There was a major study conducted, reviewing 300 papers on this subject, to see whether his claims, such as his holistic ranching could suck all the industrial carbon out of the atmosphere, whether that stood up. They found there is simply no evidence for such claims at all, that they are wildly wrong. And unfortunately, those claims, because they’re highly attractive to people, because they create the impression that you can eat meat and save the world, are simply not based on fact." [12]
  • An article in The Guardian showing why Savory's claims are false and misleading, reports that when asked for scientific support, Savory referenced a report on his own website containing "no references, no data and no links to any experimental or empirical research."[13]

See Also

Plain Text

Footnotes

  1. This is an average of figures from the graph on page 37 of the study: World Resources Institute. “Creating a Sustainable Food Future: Interim Findings,” December 2, 2013. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://www.wri.org/publication/creating-sustainable-food-future-interim-findings
  2. https://youtu.be/vpTHi7O66pI
  3. https://www.fcrn.org.uk/sites/default/files/project-files/fcrn_gnc_report.pdf
  4. 4.0 4.1 Hayek, Matthew N, and Rachael Garrett. 2018. “Nationwide Shift to Grass-Fed Beef Requires Larger Cattle Population.” Environmental Research Letters (July 17). doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aad401.
  5. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2013.12.001
  6. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/163431
  7. US EPA, OAR. “Understanding Global Warming Potentials.” Overviews and Factsheets. US EPA, January 12, 2016. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/understanding-global-warming-potentials.
  8. The Center for Biological Diversity. “Grazing.” Accessed November 27, 2019. https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/public_lands/grazing/
  9. Farm Progress Agricultural Marketing. “BEEF.” Accessed November 16, 2019. https://marketing.farmprogress.com/brands/livestock/beef/.
  10. Beef Magazine. “What’s More Sustainable: Grain-Fed or Grass-Fed Beef?,” December 8, 2016. https://www.beefmagazine.com/agenda/what-s-more-sustainable-grain-fed-or-grass-fed-beef
  11. http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2013/03/18/alan-savory-gives-a-popular-and-very-misleading-ted-talk/
  12. https://www.democracynow.org/2018/11/29/george_monbiot_ending_meat_dairy_consumption
  13. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2014/aug/04/eat-more-meat-and-save-the-world-the-latest-implausible-farming-miracle

Meta

This fact sheet was originally authored by Greg Fuller and copyedited by Isaac Nickerson. The contents may have been edited since that time by others.