Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grass-fed Meats slow Global Warming

There was a lot of noise on the blogs recently about the contribution that livestock makes to global warming. I always pipe in with a never-acknowledged comment that they're talking about feed-lot livestock, penned up by the thousands in too-small a space, being fed corn, which, in the case of cattle, they are not meant to eat. This is where the methane, a particularly insidious greenhouse gas, is developed in quantities worthy of concern.

Does this mean you should stop eating meat? Well, no. Being a vegetarian is, undoubtedly, much better for the planet than being a meat eater. But grass-fed meat is solar powered, raised on land where it would be hard to grow grain or anything else humans could eat. So, you belligerent meat eaters can have your beef jerky and eat it too. Just make it grass-fed. And eat less of it.

Take Nectar Hills Farm, which is near Cooperstown New York. The rolling hills of this farm aren't well suited for any other kind of agriculture. It's grass land, where the cattle, pigs, chickens, ducks, and emus graze in open pastures eating grass (or bugs). Since beef is the big deal in global warming terms, lets compare these naturally low-fat and cold-tolerant highlanders to, say, a steer in a Kansas City feed lot.

Dave Dutton and Sonia Sola are the owners and farmers at Nectar Hills Farm. They love their animals, a small herd of about 35. The cattle roam the pastures of their farm, eating grass, which, because they're ruminants, is what they have evolved to eat. The steer in KC is stuck in a feed lot with so many other animals that he can barely turn around. He is fed corn, which makes him sick, so he has to be given lots of drugs to keep him alive long enough to get to market weight. Because he eats corn, which makes his stomach acidic, he farts a whole lot more methane that one of the Nectar Hills Farm cows. The KC steer is knee deep in manure. The Nectar Hills steer spreads his manure around the pasture, where it fertilizes the grass he will eat later. The KC steer's manure is, along with the manure from thousands of others, poisoning the over-loaded local watershed.

There are many other reasons to eat grass-fed meat. For me, the environmental reasons are the most important. What I do to me affects me, but what I do to the world affects everyone. Environmentalists should be aware of alternatives to industrial agriculture, including alternative livestock operations, that do not contribute to the problem of global warming in the same way that large, industrial feed-lots do.

This isn't a new topic. Michael Pollan talks about grass-fed meat all the time. In the documentary King Corn, you get to see a cow with a big hole in it's side that's being treated for problems related to being fed corn. Many restaurants and health food stores are carrying grass fed meats (see the Nectar Hills Farm links page for a list of places you can purchase their meat, including the Borough Hall Brooklyn Farmer's Market in New York City). So, the solution is out there. If you ask for it, you'll be able to get it. And, you'll make a big difference without becoming a vegetarian. Not that there's anything wrong with being a vegetarian.

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