Deep Dive

SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE

In a balanced ecosystem, predators are necessary to keep the other animal populations in check. Natural hunters (including humans) perform an important environmental function. They may not always be nice about it, but that’s the harsh reality of nature.

But modern humans don’t live in a balanced ecosystem. By growing crops and animals, we have created an artificial food chain with ourselves at the top. That makes us morally responsible for what’s going on.  But when we look at industrially farmed animals, it’s pretty clear that morality is not the industry’s first concern. Clearly, the environmental impact and quality of life of raised animals have room for improvement.

Raising animals vs farming crops

We are often told that livestock farming is evil and farming crops is good. But the world is not that simple. In most Western countries, large parts of nature have been replaced by endless corn and wheat fields. And while these may look natural, they are not. Many insect and bird species are threatened with extinction because their natural habitats have been replaced by fields of wheat and soybeans.

Now, as long as our livestock is fed on that same wheat and soy, not eating meat will always be the most sustainable option. But that misses an important point. A cow was never meant to eat wheat or soybeans. If a cow were to eat grass as nature intended, it wouldn’t matter how much food it needs to produce a pound of beef. All that would matter is that a cow transforms inedible grass into delicious beef. Most grasslands are not suited for growing vegetables, and planned livestock grazing has been shown to improve the quality of the grasslands in question. What’s more, grazed grasslands may be our best option to combat desertification and reclaim lands that have already become deserts.

Responsible livestock farming

At the moment, animals raised on industrial farms have a pretty miserable life. But we can raise our animals differently. It may be more expensive, but a farmed animal should not have to have a worse life than a wild animal. Of course, raising animals will always mean they need to be slaughtered at some point. But responsible slaughterhouses make an effort to provide a humane death. Certainly more humane than most animals can expect in the wild. Wild animals rarely die of old age surrounded by their loved ones. They usually die of hunger, infection or by becoming someone else’s lunch.

By returning large areas of farmland to nature and allowing our livestock to forage outside for food again, we can change the way agriculture works. If we could change to a more natural holistic system, the net impact of livestock farming could be minimal or even positive. Visit the Holistic Management website if you want to learn more.

So what can you do?

Let’s be realistic: we won’t change the world in a day. What you can do is buy your meat from sustainable, naturally fed sources. This allows those animals a quality life and provides you with the best possible meat. It costs a little more, but perhaps the ugly truth is that our food is just too cheap at the moment. People have never spent less money on food than they do today. In the US, an average 1960s family spent around 18% of its income on food. An average modern family spends only half that. If we were to treat our food with the respect it deserves and were prepared to spend a bit more on it, we could all eat organically farmed livestock and nutritious vegetables instead of soil depleting soy and grains. Cheap food is not a fact of life, and changing your mindset about what food should cost helps you live life with a clear conscience.

Of course, not everyone is in a position to spend more on food. Things you can do that are easy on your wallet are to introduce one or two meat-free days per week (good for the world and healthy), eat vegetables and meat while they are in season and buy your food from local farmers directly. All of this will lower your grocery bill and improve the quality of the food you’re eating.

In the end, whether you eat meat or not is up to you. We wanted to give the insight that, if done correctly, livestock farming does not need to kill the planet.