Climate Friendly Cows Make Meat Eating a Little Less Bad

Climate Smart Cattle photo

Photo via Bjorlanda Farm.

Leave it to the Swedes to try to have their cows and eat them, too. In the southern half of the country, farmers are breeding Highland cattle, originally from Scotland but bred in Sweden for decades if not centuries. The breed is long-haired (to better survive winter), long-horned, and long-living. Highland cattle are pastured year-round in the milder southern Swedish climate, eating grass and the wild herbs growing in the different rotating fields they eat in. This grass-fed meat, a bit leaner and perhaps with a tinge of wild game taste, is considered to be more climate smart in this Gothenburg Post story as it is locally-produced (though not organic), higher in omega-3 fats, and lower in methane emissions. Does this mean meat-eating can be part of a green lifestyle?Meatless weekdays don't disappear
First of all, Swedes are aware of the ecological burden of agricultural meat production - they are the first country in Europe to publish food recommendations that officially ask Swedish consumers to cut back on meat. At the (food and climate) web site, reducing meat consumption is considered part of a climate-smart lifestyle, and chicken is the meat with the lowest lifecycle carbon burden, while eggs are considered the best form of non-vegetarian protein with the lowest CO2 effect.

Vegetarians will tell you that there is nothing better you can do for the climate than give up all meat. However, at the same time that lower meat consumption is positive, a segment of farmers pursuing sustainable agriculture believe that cows and cattle (and thus occasional meat eating) are part of a whole system that has net positive benefits for the earth - grazed pasture being an effective way to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Animal scientists have shown that cattle that move around in different managed pastures not only get better grass but also emit up to 20 percent less methane than confined lot cows.

Opting out of the commercial, industrial food system
At the Björlanda farm slightly north of the city of Gothenburg, Highland cattle are being bred for their meat. The farm supports 50 cows, and will eventually have 80 - 90. The farmer, Henrik Johansson, is the sixth generation to take over the farm, and has high hopes that it will one day be economically self-sufficient. Johansson sells the meat from his cows at an on-farm store, and encourages local buyers to find their way to his place on foot - not by car.

Matthew J. Rales, an apprentice at Joel Salatin's grass-based Polyface Farm, last year wrote the article An Inconvenient Cow as a defense for sustainable husbandry after the damning UN article that catalogued the ills of industrial meat production. According to Rales, the cow has its place in small-scale farming, but consumers must make a switch from depending on supermarket food, he says, to growing their own, supporting local producers, and especially, grass farmers.

Read more at TreeHugger on grass-fed meat
Foodprint: The Surprising Ecological Foodprint of a Little Meat
New Study Says You Are Dead Meat if You Eat Red Meat
U.S.D.A. Grass-Fed Label in the Works
Eat a Vegetarian Diet, Reduce Your Carbon Footprint By a Ton
Grain Fed Beef is Off the Menu as Recession Bites
and at the Forums
Why is Not Eating Meat Green?

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