Don’t Give Up Meat for the Planet. Grass-Fed Beef Is the Better Answer to Climate Change
- Factory-farmed beef is wrecking your health and the planet. Feedlots contribute to soil erosion, water pollution, fossil fuel consumption, and poor air quality, among other issues.
- Grass-fed beef is different. When animals have room to graze, they improve land use, nutrient and manure management, and soil health. All those benefits translate into a reduced carbon footprint.
- Plus, grass-fed meat is more ethical, sustainable, and nutrient-dense than industrial meat. It has more antioxidants, omega-3s, trace minerals, and vitamins.
- The answer to climate change isn’t to stop eating meat. Eat organic, grass-fed beef, sourced as locally as possible. If it’s too expensive, eat less of it.
On my family’s small, organic farm at home in Vancouver Island, we have a peaceful ecosystem: Our sheep graze peacefully in the yard. Sheep happen to be great at making poop. Animal poop produces healthy soil, which gives us thriving organic vegetables and supports the soil’s natural microbes.
Now, take that bucolic scene and make it global. Grass-fed meat is better for you and the planet, period. You may have seen headlines saying otherwise. In October, the UN published a climate change report that painted the environmental impact of meat in a pretty poor light. Environmentalists campaign against meat because we eat too much of it, which is bad for our health and the environment. However, these reports tend to focus on industrial meat, and they don’t account for the full carbon footprint of meat raised on responsibly managed land.
“The kind of prevailing view is that cows are the cause of all of our problems in terms of climate change, or at least a big contributor. That is true if you’re talking about factory-farmed animals. But, the best way to build soil is to integrate animals into a regenerative farm,” says Hyman.
Here’s the truth: In comparison to industrial meat, grass-fed is more ethical, more sustainable, and better for your health. Keep reading to find out how grass-fed animals (and their poop) can save the planet.
The environmental impact of meat, according to reports
The UN report said that livestock greenhouse gas emissions are the highest compared to all other food sources. These emissions are caused by feed production, animal waste and digestion, land-use change, and livestock transport and processing. The report called out cattle (beef and milk) in particular because of its high methane emissions from rumen fermentation, or the process through which livestock digest plant polymers in grass and hay. The waste products from this process? Cow burps, which consist of gases like carbon dioxide and methane. Yummy.
According to the authors, eating less meat could cut back on the efforts to keep global temperatures from rising 2°C above pre-industrial levels. This is a big deal because global consumption of beef and veal is set to rise in the next decade. It’s a major public health problem if more people are eating higher quantities of industrial meat. Factory-farmed beef is garbage. It’s loaded with mold toxins and pesticides from cheap grain feed, and it’s pumped up with antibiotics to prevent the animals from getting sick in cruel, cramped conditions. That’s bad for your body. It’s also bad for the environment.
When people eat more industrial meat, also called CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) meat, its negative effects are compounded. CAFO cattle are clumped together in cramped feedlots. These feedlots use less land per animal in order to maximize farming efficiency, but instead of making things more efficient, the model makes things worse. Industrial agriculture contributes to soil erosion and water pollution, ruins soil biodiversity, consumes water at unsustainable rates, and uses tons of nonrenewable fossil fuels to keep operations running.  Feedlots also contribute to antibiotic resistance and poor air quality.
Conversely, grass-fed animals play a key role in sustainable agriculture that benefits the entire planet.
The carbon footprint of grass-fed meat
Reports that talk about the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock fail to take into account the full impact that grass-fed animals have on their environment. Studies have found that well-managed grazing systems can manage soil carbon levels and reduce the production of greenhouse gasses like methane. Plus, you can graze cattle on land that is not well-suited for farming, which improves local land use. Sustainable grazing systems can even improve water filtration, which has the very great side effect of improving soil carbon.
Did you know that there’s more carbon in the soil than there is in the atmosphere and plant life combined? That’s what I learned in my conversation with therapist-turned-environmental economist Judith D. Schwartz on this episode of the Bulletproof Radio podcast. A study conducted by The National Trust, a conservation non-profit based in the United Kingdom, found that grass-fed beef production reduced greenhouse gas emissions when the carbon sequestration and storage of grassland pasture was considered. What does that mean? Basically, when you give animals room to roam (and poop), you lower their overall carbon footprint. Here’s how.
Have carbon, will travel
One way to reduce rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere is to increase the global storage of carbon in soil, which has a pleasant list of side effects: Enhanced carbon improves soil and water quality, decreases nutrient loss, reduces soil erosion, increases water conservation, and increase crop production. Grass-fed animals play an important role in maintaining key soil nutrients through — you guessed it — their poop.
According to Schwartz, when soil lacks important microbes and nutrients like carbon, it can actually contribute to “desertification.” That’s part of the reason grass-fed animals are so vital to the planet: Grazing cattle keep soil healthy because “microbes are basically kind of hitching a ride in the ruminant’s gut and through the animal then returning the nutrients to the soil through waste it keeps moisture,” Schwartz says.
When you don’t have animal poop fertilizer, you have to mine sources of nitrogen to take its place. The problem is that we’re rapidly running out of this resource, and artificial fertilizers aren’t the answer. They throw off the soil’s ecosystem and contribute to unbalanced microbes, flooding, and erosion problems. Plus, the CO2 released from fossil fuel combustion during the production, transport, and application of nitrogen fertilizer also reduces the net amount of carbon sequestered into the soil. You know what doesn’t require any fossil fuels to produce nitrogen? Free-roaming animals.
So, yes, industrial meat is bad, and people are projected to eat more of it over the coming decades. The solution isn’t to abandon meat entirely or keep eating factory-farmed beef and hope for the best. Instead, Eat grass-fed, organic meat, sourced as locally as possible.
It’ll be a little more expensive than those cheap tubes of questionable beef you can buy at the grocery store for pennies on the ounce. If you have to shift your beef budget so you eat less meat, but higher-quality, then everyone wins.
Grass-fed is better for your health, too
Still not convinced? Grass-fed beef is a completely different food than grain-fed industrial beef. As I say in “The Bulletproof Diet,” “Organic, grass-fed meat provides more nutrients and fewer toxins than grain-fed or conventional meat, with more antioxidants, omega-3s, trace minerals, and vitamins than any other food.” 
Consuming grass-fed meat is one of the best ways to prevent disease, improve brain function, lose weight, and become Bulletproof because it limits your exposure to the pesticides and mold toxins you’ll find in bargain beef. That’s why grass-fed is such a key part of the Bulletproof Diet. Read more about grass-fed meat vs. grain-fed meat.
In a more recent episode of Bulletproof Radio, Dr. Hyman explains how everyone can eat sustainably.
“There’s plenty of data that’s showing that you can eat well for less — that you can eat a whole food, healthy diet. Maybe you’re not having a $70 grass-fed ribeye steak, but you can eat real food that’s unprocessed. There’s a great guide by the Environmental Working Group called Good Food on a Tight Budget, which teach you how to do that, and I’ve seen it. I’ve worked with families on disability and food stamps and helped them lose hundreds of pounds in the worst food desert in America simply by giving them the education on how to do it,” says Hyman.
Listen: You don’t have to grow your own food, and you don’t have to raise your own sheep like I do. However, you should know that grass-fed beef is more nutrient-dense, higher in anti-inflammatory compounds, and more delicious than anything that comes from a factory farm. Listen to the facts straight from a rancher in this episode of the Bulletproof Radio podcast, where I speak with Glenn Elzinga, expert organic rancher and owner of Alderspring Ranch.
Oh, and if you haven’t had a grass-fed steak yet, you owe it to yourself to try one. You’ll feel the difference after you eat it — and you’ll help the planet, too.
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