Grazed and confused
This report (PDF and summary) by the Food Climate Research Network addresses the role of ruminants in grazing systems and their relationship with climate change. The potential contribution of grazing ruminants to soil carbon sequestration is small, time-limited, reversible and substantially outweighed by the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions they generate. The ambitious claims made by advocates of grass-fed livestock about grazing as a significant mitigation opportunity are thus unfounded. While grazing livestock have a beneficial role to play in some contexts, and better management of grazing is a worthwhile objective, when it comes to climate mitigation, its potential contribution is minor. Rising animal production and consumption risks driving damaging changes in land use and associated GHG release. Grazing livestock produce only a fraction of global protein supply, but ruminants collectively use about a quarter of the earth’s usable surface. It is simply not possible to carry on eating as much meat and dairy as trends indicate and obtain it through grass-fed systems alone (even with the additional feeding of agricultural by-products and food waste). The challenge for now and the coming years is to figure out the environmentally least-bad way of using land and other resources to nourish ourselves and meet our other developmental goals. The prevailing assumption that animal production must grow to meet demands for high animal protein diets in affluent and increasingly in emerging economies needs questioning.