Don’t Give Up on Animal Agriculture

At A Greener World, we have an annual tradition counting down the top ‘gifts’ we’ve received from Big Ag–and wish we could return.

This year’s haul was a greatest hits list from the last decade: unproven, unlabeled genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food; increased antibiotic abuse in food animal production; wildly misleading label claims; fake meat, continued soil degradation, extreme weather made worse by climate change–the list goes on. So to close out the decade, instead of restating the challenges we’ve covered previously, we’re doing something different: We’re looking at one of the biggest misconceptions to come out of the twenty-tens, and offering a science-based take on what to do instead.

Going Vegan to Save the Environment? Think Again.

Like most people, you probably care about the planet and are looking for ways to make a positive impact. If you depended on headlines for advice, you might think going vegan is the answer. Unfortunately, in today’s polarized, soundbite-driven society, what should read: “High-consuming countries and individuals need to reduce consumption of industrial meat” becomes “Meat is killing the planet.”

Except that it’s not. Industrial agriculture is absolutely harmful, but there are other ways to raise animals. And demonizing all meat and dairy is making us miss the higher-impact solutions right in front of our faces. While swearing off sustainable animal products does NOT have a proven climate benefit, reducing non-renewable energy consumption, for example, or cutting back on air travel definitely does.

So this year we’re sharing a range of actions you can take to help the planet instead of giving up meat. We know some of these are controversial, but they are based in real science. We figure that when people have good information about the impacts of their lifestyles they can make their own decisions. Please note that for the purposes of this post, figures are based on standard American consumption.

10 Things You Can Do for the Planet Instead of Giving Up on Animal Agriculture

  1. Switch to certified sustainable meat and dairy. Very few labels guarantee this (we certify most of them at A Greener World), and most claims are just dressing up the same old industrial products. Learn your labels here.

The first step in all of this is calculating your baseline emissions. A vegan with three houses, jet-setting across the globe, has a higher carbon footprint than a subsistence goat-herder in a one-room hut. Of course, most of us fit neither description, and our lifestyles will impact our emissions. There are many carbon footprint calculators out there, but remember that most estimates of food-related emissions are calculated using industrial agriculture figures (with their inherent dependence on fossil fuels and massive deforestation). So if you’re mostly eating Certified Grassfed by AGW beef, your actual emissions will be lower–plus you’re also supporting better water stewardship, responsible antibiotic use, independent farmers and humane animal treatment.

However you crunch the numbers, diet is typically a much smaller share of our individual emissions than energy and transportation. So while we should all be pushing for real policy action on the climate emergency, at an individual level we have to choose between real change and the appearance of change. You may feel righteous about your new plant-based diet, but that probably doesn’t help your grandkids have a livable planet — and it certainly won’t support the kind of low-input, sustainable animal farming we need for a sustainable future.

Our advice? Work out your baseline emissions, then pick something from the list above and do your best. Until our elected officials start taking the climate emergency seriously, it’s down to us to take the lead.



Empowering sustainable solutions in agriculture and transparency in food production for farmers and consumers |

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A Greener World

Empowering sustainable solutions in agriculture and transparency in food production for farmers and consumers |