Globally, more than 80 billion land animals are bred, raised, and slaughtered annually, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture organization.
A recent study published in Nature Food finds that global food production accounts for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. The rearing of animals creates twice the pollution of cultivating plant-based foods. The researchers find that 57 percent come from cows, pigs, and other animals for food, including the production of livestock feed.
A recent Chatham House report, supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Compassion in World Farming also cites the destruction of biodiversity as another major repercussion of industrial livestock production.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) details how industrial livestock production also causes contamination of water, soil, and air. Several instances of infectious disease spread have also been linked to industrial animal farming, according to research published in Environmental and Resource Economics.
Labor exploitation and the prevalence of serious psychological distress among slaughterhouse workers in United States beef packing plants have also been documented by researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health and The George Washington University.
Industrial livestock production has caused severe deforestation, according to research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison focused on the Brazilian Amazon. A recent investigation published by the environmental advocacy group Mighty Earth and Repórter Brasil finds that major Brazilian meat producers like JBS and Minerva are linked to deforestation in the Amazon and other critical biospheres. This has prompted several European supermarket chains to either reduce or outright halt sales of Brazilian beef in the coming months.
“There needs to be a transition out of the industrial model of livestock production with massive numbers of cows in one place that have extra manure,” Shefali Sharma, director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) tells Food Tank. Sharma says that “instead, there should be a shift away from this model to low density stocking well managed pasture. The alternative model will sequester carbon, increase soil health, and ultimately lead to a better climate.”
But that doesn’t mean meat consumption should come to a halt. With more environmentally sustainable management systems, livestock can play a critical role in the sustainable development of agriculture. Livestock can contribute to food security, nutrition, poverty alleviation and economic growth.
In Benin, young farmers are learning to use integrated systems that combine crop production, aquaculture and livestock. And some Brazilian ranches are implementing silvopastoral systems that combine growing trees with raising livestock. Farmers around the world are proving that it is possible to ensure healthy and sustainable diets from livestock, while also respecting and protecting the environment.
“So much of industrial agriculture seems to want to remove the wiseness of farmers,” Peter Byck, professor at Arizona State University, tells Food Tank. Byck is the director, producer, and writer of “Carbon Nation,” a filmmaking project telling stories of regenerative agriculture. He continues, “It’s not that [holistic grazing] takes a lot of background knowledge to start…it enables farmers to really learn their land, which is invigorating for every farmer I’ve met who’s changed.”
This week, Food Tank is highlighting 16 organizations that show how sustainable livestock management can help guarantee food security and sustain the earth’s resources for future generations.
Brazilian cattle ranchers from the Pantanal region who were engaged in Mato Grosso do Sul state wetlands conservation created ABPO in 2001. The association aims to produce high-quality meat while ensuring social responsibility, the animals’ well-being, respect for the environment, and food security. In 2003, ABPO began to collaborate with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Brazil to support the production of organic livestock. In 2009, the WWF helped ABPO create an internal protocol for production processes and socio-environmental responsibility to regulate the activities carried out by the association and its members.
2. Centre Songhaï, Bénin
In 1985, Godfrey Nzamujo founded Centre Songhaï in Porto-Novo, Benin. The farm uses an integrated system that combines crop production, aquaculture, and livestock production to reduce food and water waste. The byproducts generated from livestock, like litter and droppings, are converted into compost and used in place of chemical fertilizers to produce biogas for cooking, lighting, and heating. The Centre also trains young agricultural entrepreneurs to implement the Songhaï model in other regions of the African continent and contribute to the sustainable development of their communities. The Songhaï model has dispersed across countries including Burkina Faso, Uganda, Chad, and many others.
3. Ecofarms, Brazil
In the heart of Minas Gerais, a large inland state in southeastern Brazil, is Ecofarms, a cattle farm that works to maintain the biodiversity of the region, mitigate climate change, and increase animal welfare. The farm implements a silvopastoral system, which combines tree growing with the production of livestock. More than 40 percent of the ranch is covered by native forest, and the farm partners with the Neutral Livestock Project, a project that seeks to neutralize the greenhouse gases emitted by cattle. Ecofarms markets their beef through Gran Beef, a sustainable meat brand that exclusively sells meat from Ecofarms’ animals and is Rainforest Alliance Certified.
4. Enonkishu Conservancy, Kenya
Located at the edge of the Mara Serengeti Ecosystem, the Enonkishu Conservancy adopts a Holistic Management (HM) approach to sustainable rangeland conservation and livestock production. The community-owned wildlife and livestock conservancy aims to look after the Masai heritage, traditional values of pastoralists, and the natural resources of the local ecosystem. Established on the Enonkishu Conservancy, the Mara Training Centre provides a space for training in skills like sustainable rangeland management, soil and water regeneration, and value chain development. Through their Herds for Growth program, community members can learn to improve the breeding, husbandry, and grazing of their livestock.
5. Heifer International, International
Since 1944, Heifer International has partnered with farmers around the world to strengthen local economies and build secure, living incomes through projects that invest in livestock and agriculture. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit promotes agroecology and works with farmers to protect local ecosystems and biodiversity, deploy soil and water conservation techniques, and reduce carbon footprints. At their request, Heifer International also supports farmers in raising livestock. Their work emphasizes sanitary farm practices, prioritizes animal well-being, and aims to increase production efficiency to build Sustainable Living Incomes. Heifer International currently works in 21 countries.
6. International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), International
ILRI was established in 1994 as a not-for-profit livestock research organization co-hosted by Kenya and Ethiopia with 14 offices across Asia and Africa. The Institute aims to improve food and nutritional security through its work promoting the efficient, safe, and sustainable use of livestock. Through its research on topics ranging from climate change to emerging infectious diseases, ILRI uses livestock as a development tool to secure assets and increase market participation of the poor and smallholder pastoralists and farmers.
7. Mazingira Centre, Kenya
In 2014, the International Livestock Research Institute established the Mazingira Centre with a vision to define and create environmentally friendly, climate-smart, and food and nutrition secure livelihoods for smallholder farmers and livestock keepers. The Centre’s primary goal is to make agroecosystems more productive and resilient to stresses while minimizing environmental degradation and pollution through research and capacity building projects. Scientists at the Mazingira Centre have conducted research and developed experimental programs on topics including improving agricultural productivity, particularly in the livestock sector, while also halting or reversing land degradation.
8. Niman Ranch Next Generation Foundation, United States
Niman Ranch began to raise cattle using traditional, humane methods with wholesome, all-natural feeds in the early 1970s on a family-owned cattle ranch north of San Francisco. The meat processing and distribution company has now expanded to providing beef, pork, and lamb products. In 2006, the company’s Next Generation Foundation launched to support young farmers and ranchers further their education. The goal is to strengthen rural communities and support young farmers committed to sustainability.
9. Rancho Margot, Costa Rica
In 2004, Juan Sostheim founded Rancho Margot, an eco-tourism project with a self-sustaining ranch located at the foothills of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest in Costa Rica’s northern highlands. The eco-project produces over half of all food consumed by workers, residents, and guests. The ranch’s cows, which are primarily used for dairy and sometimes beef, are grass-fed, and chickens on the farm are entirely free-range. Rancho Margot produces its own electricity with two hydroelectric generators and some solar panels, and has its own bio-digester to treat liquid animal waste and create fertilizer for the ranch. Certified carbon-neutral, Rancho Margot has aimed to lead sustainable ecotourism for nearly 15 years.
10. Rodale Institute, United States
Since 1947, the Rodale Institute has pioneered organic agriculture through research and outreach, and has been globally recognized as a founder and leader of the modern organic movement. The nonprofit produces scientific research on regenerative organic farming and provides farmers with training to help them transition from environmentally-intensive farming to regenerative techniques. The Institute advocates for integrating crops and livestock in order to reduce animal feed costs, improve soil health, increase farm biodiversity, and utilize marginal lands. In 2015, the nonprofit built a state-of-the-art pastured hog facility, where it aims to help farmers determine the best type of pasture for raising hogs and maximizing the regrowth of forage crops.
11. Salgot Organic Research Farm, Spain
Nestled at the foot of the Montseny Natural Park, 30 miles north of Barcelona, the Ecogranja de Recerca Salgot (the Salgot Organic Research Farm), is a small, organic hog farm. The layout of the hog farm has been designed to face south so the pigs receive direct sunlight, both for warmth and comfort, during each of the breeding phases. The farm also houses a small plant for the biological treatment, purification, and composting of manure. The company has two processing facilities near the farm where they produce and then market organic sausages in limited supply. Salgot undertakes research on feed composition and genetics, and has received support from the European Union, ACCIÓ (the Catalan Government’s agency for business competitiveness), and the Government of Catalonia.
12. Savory Institute, United States
Located in Boulder, Colorado, Allan Savory, an ecologist and livestock farmer from Zimbabwe, co-founded the Savory Institute and pioneered Holistic Management. This system helps livestock farmers regenerate critically important and fragile grasslands through planned grazing that cares for soil health. The 501(c)(3) non-profit organization has implemented 50 small-scale, local Savory Hubs in various communities around the world that offer consulting and training services, as well financial, network, and material resources to the regions’ farmers.
13. SEKEM, Egypt
In 1977, Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish, an Egyptian philanthropist, drug designer and chemist, created SEKEM with a mission to advance sustainable development. SEKEM keeps cattle, sheep, bees, and pigeons. Cattle are raised in unbound, open spaces and are fed corn-silage, clover, straw, fodder beet, corn, soy, cotton seeds and wheat bran. Each cow produces around 23 liters of milk, and sheep are fed clover and regularly graze pastures. SEKEM also composts the manure from the animals, using it to cultivate its 100 percent organic agriculture. As a Biodynamic agriculture company, SEKEM reports it has reduced CO2 emissions and water consumption compared to conventional producers.
14. Southern Blue Regenerative, Australia
Southern Blue Regenerative is a farm in New South Wales, Australia that raises grass-fed beef, lamb, and sheep using methods of Holistic Management, including Holistic Planned Grazing. Along with rotational grazing practices, the farm implements methods of pasture cropping, biodynamics, and composting. The farm also collaborates with other regenerative farming and agricultural practitioners to offer workshops and training programs on holistic planned grazing, soil health, biodynamic farming, and management skills. Glen Chapman, farmer and educator at Southern Blue Regenerative, has received accreditation from the Savory Institute as a Holistic Management Educator Field Professional.
15. Stepney City Farm, United Kingdom
In 1979, residents in London’s East End worked together to set up a community farm on a derelict site bombed in World War II, which later became the charity Stepney City Farm in 2010. The farm raises sheep, goats, donkeys, pigs and poultry, as well as smaller animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, and ferrets, and is committed to non-industrial, high-welfare treatment of its animals for ethical and sustainable consumption. The farm invites schools and community groups to visit the farm, and hosts a local farmers’ market and café. Recently, Stepney City Farm was awarded a three-year grant by the Greater London Authority to develop and expand their range of onsite youth programming. The grant will also help them introduce youth around the densely urbanized borough of Tower Hamlets to sustainable food systems and urban farming.
16. The Livestock Conservancy, United States
Based in North Carolina, the Livestock Conservancy aims to protect endangered livestock and poultry breeds from extinction. The organization believes that rare farm animals are critical to earth’s biodiversity and offer variety that may be needed for future farms. The Livestock Conservancy was recently recognized in the Good Food Org Guide, presented by The James Beard Foundation and Food Tank, along with an advisory group of food system experts, for the nonprofit’s work to create a more sustainable food system.
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Photo courtesy of Filip Bunkens, Unsplash