Emerging Markets / June 10, 2019

Holistic Management for Beef: A Climate Change Solution

When the Impossible Burger stole the show at the CES Tech fest earlier this year we noted that meat alternatives have officially arrived. The fact that CES has never before showcased a food product and the Impossible Burger’s victories in categories like “Emerging Tech” and “Most Impactful Product” are clear signs that consumers see meat alternatives as more than food. They are solutions. But to what exactly? Clearly not taste. The goal is always to mimic the flavor of natural beef. Otherwise, artificial bleeding and meat-like protein structure would not be celebrated as achievements. No, the pursuit of alternative meat is a clear consumer response to the destructive climate realities of the conventional beef industry.

Holistic Management for Beef: A Climate Change Solution

In many ways, the consumer response is laudable. Livestock production is responsible for right around 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Ruminants like cattle make up about 80% of this amount largely due to the potent methane they release. Cattle housed in industrial controlled animal feeding operations (CAFOs) also generate significant waste streams, as their manure has no chance to be stabilized in the soil.

The impact of industrial beef is especially relevant now, as the month of May recorded a universal first (and no, I’m not referring to the first time a Canadian team advanced to the NBA finals). The Mauna Loa Observatory—the premier research facility for measuring atmospheric change since the 1950s—recorded a CO2 level eclipsing 415 parts per million. It wasn’t a major spike, but the milestone represents the highest level in recorded human history. Meteorologist Eric Holthaus was quick to point out that 415ppm is the highest CO2 level, “Not just in recorded history, not just since the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago. Since before modern humans existed millions of years ago. We don’t know a planet like this,” Holthaus tweeted.

In addition to rising carbon dioxide levels, wages for the global middle class are on the increase, which also means more meat consumption. “Driven by strong demand from an emerging global middle class, diets will become richer and increasingly diversified, and growth in animal-source foods will be particularly strong” the FAO recognizes, “the demand for meat and milk in 2050 is projected to grow by 73 and 58 percent, respectively, from their levels in 2010.”

For many, including billionaire Bill Gates, the calculus of a climate solution is simple. “[As] people get richer and join the global middle class, they want to eat more protein,” Gates explained to Rolling Stone. “It’s a nice problem to have that people are getting richer. But eating meat is hard on the environment – it demands a lot of land and water. And yet we can’t go around telling everyone they have to be vegetarians. So coming up with affordable plant-based proteins, basically meat substitutes, that really taste like meat is another area that can make a big difference. I’ve tasted a few of them, and I really couldn’t tell the difference between them and the real thing.”

Consumers of the Impossible Burger at CES, and around the world, clearly agree. However, there is even more good news for those torn between their love of their planet and a tender steak. A recent life cycle analysis conducted by Quantis, an environmental research and design firm, found that the cattle raised at White Oak Pastures in the US state of Georgia, actually represent an overall carbon sink. “The study’s unprecedented conclusion,” relays PR Newswire, “was that the conversion of annual cropland to perennial pasture, holistic grazing and other regenerative management practices such as compost application had the side effect of storing more carbon in the soil than their cows emit during their lives, based on the LCA’s 2017 data.”

The LCA numbers show that the holistic management of White Oak Pastures offsets “at least 100 percent of the farm’s grassfed beef carbon emissions and as much as 85 percent of the farm’s total carbon emissions.” The study is the latest addition to a growing body of evidence curated by Savory Institute about the restorative effects of holistic management. In reality, this is just new language and science applied to an old truth—properly managed livestock build soil and complete ecological cycles.

As eyes around the world follow the hockey stick curve of Mauna Loa’s CO2 observations, while simultaneously craving the taste of real beef, expect products from farms practicing holistic management, like Ganaderia Pietrasanta, to be in high demand.