Regenerative Farming Methods
Whilst the stance of #NoBeef (and most academics), is that beef and lamb farming need to be radically reduced globally, we acknowledge that some methods of farming these animals can play a positive role in one thing, and that’s the maintenance of healthy soils.
This said, these methods still produce a large quantity of CO2e greenhouse gas emissions, and are inherently more expensive. This is why the #NoBeef campaign supports removal of beef and lamb from schools and universities, where the primary is to feed students good nutrition in a way that’s both economical and has a low carbon footprint.
Regenerative farming means farming in a way that leaves the soil healthier each year. Most farming methods these days fail to do this, relying on the short-term fix of chemical fertilisers, but degrading the soil in the longterm.
So how can cows (and sheep) be farmed regeneratively?
Allowing these animals to mob-graze large areas of grass, as their ancestors naturally would have done in the wild, regularly rotating where they eat to avoid over-grazing, stimulates grass to put down deeper roots, storing more carbon in the soil. Meanwhile, the cows are eating 100% grass, rather than crops, freeing up more cropland for growing food for humans, and also, the cows spread manure as they go, building the biological health of the soil.
Healthier soil is better at growing crops, and so these methods can, in time, produce more cropland.
The problems are that these regenerative methods are expensive, and require huge amounts of land for a small number of cows, so whilst regenerative farming can have a positive role to play, it can’t ever come close to meeting the global demand for beef. Demand has to fall.
Furthermore, whilst the ideal would be to use these regenerated lands for crops, often the land continues to be used for cows and sheep only. In these circumstances, it would arguably have been better to reforest it, and produce far more food on a much smaller plot of land growing crops instead.
This said, #NoBeef wants to ensure that these methods of farming are known about, partly because of their potential role in maintaining healthy soils, and partly because those people who do continue to consume beef and lamb ought to be looking out for labels like this one to minimise their negative impact…
Rather than relying on animal manure to maintain our soils, a more ideal solution would be for us to improve biological fertilisers made from household organic waste, so that we can improve the health of the soil with our own waste, rather than the waste of cows… “cutting out the middle cow”.
However, such organic waste recycling systems will take time to develop and so, in the meantime, it’s arguable that there’s a role to play for a small number of cows.
Some countries are doing better at farming regeneratively than others. Uruguay is generally much better than Brazil, and the UK is generally much better than the USA.
In fact, running the #NoBeef campaign from the UK creates a complicated situation.
In the UK, beef is significantly more likely to be free-range pasture-farmed than US beef. It could be a bad thing if the British beef industry were to rapidly collapse, making space for US beef-producers to move in.
Not only is US beef farming significantly more damaging to the environment on most metrics, but there are other controversial factors about US beef too.
In the US, cows are fed enormous amounts of maize, which is a relatively unnatural thing for cows to eat, certainly in such large amounts. This results in their gut biomes changing significantly, due to the build up of lactic acid. Bacteria that feed on the lactic acid then cross from the cows’ guts into their bloodstreams, travel to the liver, and there they form abscesses, and (unless they’re fed large amounts of antimicrobials) lead to liver failure.
Antimicrobials used in the US like Tylosin are outlawed in the EU, for good reasons.