Beef and climate change always seem to be in the news, whether we’re discussing cows’ allegedly high-methane farts, (they’re mostly high-methane burps!), or comparing carbon emissions to other industries such as transport (transport emits 14%, whereas livestock emits 5%). As seems to be the trend with so many controversial topics these days, it’s easy for the conversation to get polarized.
In reality, the truth is much more complex than campaigners on both sides would like to have you believe. While livestock farming does contribute a significant amount of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, the answer isn’t as simple as just cutting out meat. This is because animal-based foods are nutritious and especially important to livelihoods and diets in developing countries. In South Africa, livestock farming is essential to food security. Meat, milk and eggs provide a large amount of the protein consumed and offer essential micronutrients such as vitamin B12, A, iron, zinc, calcium and riboflavin.
Grazing also has several ecological functions and roles, including biomass removal to foster regrowth, the prevention of wildfires and the regulation of hydrology and water quality by producing diverse landscapes. Grazing is also an important tool in conservation as rich grasslands enable biodiversity and pollinators. Grazing also helps with the dispersal of seeds through ingestion and the release of dung and grasslands are estimated to contain nearly 50% more carbon than what is stored in forests worldwide.
The answer, we believe, is for farmers to improve their farming methods. We can do this by focussing on emission intensity, soil carbon and pasture restoration, and with better recycling programmes for by-products and waste and by keeping cows on pastures rather than in intensive feed-lot systems, we can generate far lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
Our farm, The Chestnuts, has always focussed on farming responsibly. We believe in raising our animals with care and consideration and in a way that respects the environment. We have always tried to minimise our use of harmful pesticides, artificial fertilisers and chemicals - focussing instead on regenerating topsoil, increasing biodiversity and building a resilience to climate fluctuations.