A lot of people, amongst them Britain's Lord Stern and Sir Paul McCartney, argue that eating less meat could help save the planet. But there is a growing body of evidence that it is not simply a case of less meat means less heat. Rural journalist Asa Wahlquist takes a closer look at this issue.
When Mark Whittaker, a cow farmer and journalist, moved to the country for a simpler life, he did not expect to discover that his cows would be blamed for their contribution to the greenhouse effect.
There have always been large numbers of ruminants on the planet with herds of millions of bison and wildebeest wandering majestically across the plains of America and Africa. Suddenly, after two centuries of industrialisation we’re trying to dump all this heat at their hooves.
A study by the US Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service found grass fed-beef requires just half a calorie of fossil fuel to create one calorie of food, whereas a 2002 study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that it took a whopping 35 calories of fossil fuels to create just one calorie of grain fed beef - 70 times more.
There are those like Dr Rita Schenck in the US who specialises in life cycle assessment who says that growing grains takes carbon out of the soil, while well-grazed cattle put it back in. She’s studied a farm in Nebraska which had corn fields, planted pasture and native pasture. There was twice as much carbon in the pasture soil as the corn field soil. And she concluded that grass-fed beef was actually carbon positive.
Walter Jeffries wrote:We use very, very little fossil fuel here on our farm.
Cj Verde wrote:Walter, you have to include the fossil fuel used to create and transport the tractor trailer loads of whey that get delivered to your place for your pigs!