The Tide Turns Against Pastured Cows

» July 20th, 2014

Reality can be a bitch. Especially when you’re committed to propaganda. There’s no more common form of agrarian propagandizing than the insistence that pastured cows can save the earth. If that assessment sounds hyperbolic, check in with Allan Savory, who says that pastured cows can save the earth.

While the media, which knows precious little about the dark side of grassfed cattle, is generally happy to reiterate the self-serving and unverified claims of the “grass farmers,” every now and then a conflict of interest emerges to force the adoring media to cough up some truth about the ecological realities on the happy farm.

In this case, the inconvenient conflict came when pastured Vermont dairy cows pooping in pristine Lake Champlain pitted native grass farmers against clean water lovers. Suddenly, with enraged enviros at each other’s throats, the truth emerged from all the shouting: all those cows supposedly primed to save the earth were turning the lake into a cesspool. Find the story here.

The fact that Grist put this story out makes the news even more interesting. Grist’s vision of a happy planet seems to be one with farm animals frolicking across endlessly verdant pastures. It has been one of the loudest cheerleaders for the pastured-based revolution. One would more likely expect blood from a stone than an anti-grassfed story from Grist‘s mill. But there it is.

But what encourages me the most about this kind of story making the rounds—and maybe I’m engaging in my own form of fantasy here—is that the inescapably messy logistics of raising animals on pasture, and the pregnant consequences therein, will inevitably present themselves so blatantly that the media, and the general public, will no longer be able to ignore a reality that we have spent so long convincing ourselves to be otherwise.

At some point reality has no choice but to bite back, right?


10 Responses to The Tide Turns Against Pastured Cows

  1. Lisa LeBlanc says:

    A few months ago, I read several articles which put the bite on grass fed cattle…seems some of the favorite grasses planted and fed to these animals contain a fungus that causes ‘toxicosis’ in cattle (one reason being that fescue isn’t a natural grass food for cattle, just a popular one with their owners.)
    Ergot fungus from rye grass can cause a plethora of disorders in livestock; it can be so risky, I can’t understand why anyone would feed either livestock or a beloved horse this junk.
    Treatments for these are in themselves poison. So what do they do? Do they leave the cattle to feed and not treat them (toxicosis can literally eat the hooves off a cow), perhaps selling them for slaughter before the disease becomes noticeable?
    Really: There would appear to be no safe modern method – safe for the animal or it’s consumers – for raising cattle, either on pasture or in a feedlot. I submit that mass production of cattle for food has passed it’s prime.

  2. Elaine Livesey-Fassel says:

    Slightly off immediate topic, but pleased to read in todays Business Sect. of LATimes an article profiling Yves Potvin and his Garden Protein Intl meat-free products and on KPFK’s Scholars Circle today an interview with three academicians one of whom Deepak Ray, along with Eward Miguel and Laurence Smith author of’ The World in 2050′,strongly suggested moving away from meat-based product.( though not necessarily for ethical reasons , but dwindling water/land resource concerns). Whatever the impetus, certainly, the WORD is certainly out there for readers/listeners to seriously consider a plant-based future in our nutritional choices.

  3. Mary Finelli says:

    Also not entirely on topic but regarding the mention of the media reiterating the self-serving and unverified claims of those with vested interests is this article by National Geographic. See the comment posted by Reef Rescue Alliance:

  4. Layne says:

    Speaking of media serving the agribusiness’ agenda, here is a disturbing interview on CBC radio in Canada with a “reformed” vegan.

    • unethical_vegan says:

      Ex-blonde vegan sounds like an ex-vegan who was doing it very wrong but is still supportive of veganism.

      I wish more ex-vegans sounded like this and I wish more vegans had the human empathy to encourage instead of accuse.

  5. Mountain says:

    From the story:

    “State officials say the biggest culprit is farm runoff”

    “livestock in the water is not the biggest impact”

    “One such recommendation calls for planting a cover crop, like rye, that would remain in the fields after the corn harvest, helping to hold the soil together and reducing erosion.”

    “Maroney says only organic, pasture-based farming – which commands higher milk prices — offers an economically viable alternative to the dominant Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) model, which involves ever larger herds, kept in barns and fed on phosphorus-fertilized corn and grain planted on the state’s most highly erodible floodplains”

    “James Ehlers, executive director of the environmental nonprofit Lake Champlain International, advocates buying out fields that are pollutant sources and turning them to other uses, possibly agriculture that doesn’t require as much fertilizer, or leave the soil as open to erosion, as corn.”

    Nice article ya got there, James. Shame it doesn’t say what you say it says.

  6. Mountain says:

    I’ve got a better article for ya:

    It’s about whales in general, and especially whale poop, and the fairly miraculous effect they (the whales) have and it (the whale poop) has on ocean ecosystems. All of which goes to establish that animal poop can have, in fact, have remarkably positive effects on ecosystems.

    I’m not suggesting that Vermont’s cows are having a positive effect on their ecosystems (though the article seems to lay the blame much more on corn-fed cows and the growing of corn to feed them). The fact that poop can have wondrous effects doesn’t mean that cows are right for Lake Champlain or that Lake Champlain is right for cows. However, if you get the right animals in the right environment, they have a strongly beneficial effect that you can’t get from plants alone.

  7. lynette says:

    Hi James,

    Thanks you for your valued insights.

    I would so welcome hearing your comments on this recent BBC article entitled ‘Beef environment cost 10 times that of other livestock’, written by Matt McGrath in which Prof Eshel, the scientist, has this to say; “”In fact, eliminating beef, and replacing it with relatively efficiency animal-based alternatives such as eggs, can achieve an environmental improvement comparable to switching to plant food source.”

    One has to wonder where that science comes from. No wonder consumers are confused!

  8. Ken Damro says:

    Ya, this “grass fed” thing really gets me. Here in Wisconsin where grass fed is thought to be the answer to all our agricultural problems, I see first hand what happens on my neighbors farms.
    NOBODY asks these proponents of grass fed animals what the animals are eating and where they are kept for the winter months. Around here, these animals are kept in confined cow yards for at least 7 months of the year where they wallow around in 2 feet of liquid manure. Grass farmers need to keep the cattle in these cow yards until about June 1st in order for the grass crop to reach a certain maturity. At this point, grassland birds have set up nesting sites and laid eggs. Then the herd is left out for the summer and the bird eggs are trampled and the habitat destroyed. In addition hay needs to be cut and made for winter feeding and few farmers are willing to wait until mid summer to cut hay, so birds and other wildlife are destroyed in the hay making process. It’s a disastrous way to make food for people.

  9. Stargazer says:

    It’s not about only pastured grazing…’s more about how we are supposed to maintain that pasture land…. Mimicking nature…mimicking how large herds graze on grasslands….

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