Enviros Start To Wake Up From Grass-Fed Dream

» August 5th, 2014

The Pitchfork has long maintained that pastured cows are no answer at all to the environmental catastrophe of beef production. In fact, it may even be worse. Integral to this mission has been the effort to push back against the grass-fed guru Allan Savory, whose rotational grazing fantasies have been nicely packaged as reality and shot into the bullseye of public opinion through that glitzy marketing move known a as a TED talk.

I took on Savory over a year ago here at Slate. The piece made an impression in some quarters, but overall it seems to have done little to dampen the glee of Savory’s absurd thesis that we can save the planet by eating beef. But a piece in yesterday’s Guardian by the popular environmental writer George Monbiot may have the heft to push Savory’s crackpot thesis into the dustbin of bad ideas. The article covers the same ground I covered in Slate but incorporates new research and a phone interview with the Savory to hammer home the fact that the man is loony.

As advocates for animals it is essential that we work to highlight the inherent environmental flaws of beef production, flaws that persist irrespective of the method of domestication or  farm size. Of course the Pitchfork is concerned with the end of all animal agriculture, but at the moment the grass-fed hypothesis is stunned and staggered. Apologies for the pugilistic metaphor, but as a fan of boxing I decalre it’s time to deliver this dangerous thesis a knockout punch.


10 Responses to Enviros Start To Wake Up From Grass-Fed Dream

  1. VeganShift says:

    I’ve been right there with you on this one. While I’m glad to have George Monbiot in our corner right now, he has been known to vasilate on his ideas in support of “The Vegans Have It Right” (4 or so years ago?) to back to supporting the grass fed scenario. I hope he sticks with us this time. I’ll now go read what he has to say.

  2. Jane says:

    I’m so glad you’ve written about this subject. I’ve read George Monbiot’s article & shared it everywhere. I’m sharing yours, too, of course.


  3. Marc Bedner says:

    I have noticed more food co-ops pushing the idea of grassfed beef, as part of their yokelvore campaign. The upcoming annual conference of the Quivira Coalition, which has long promoted Savory’s charlatanism, will feature a presentation from La Montanita coop. Monbiot’s articles have often been problematic, but his latest article should help expose the myths around grassfed beef, as well as the general yokelvore mythology which you have written about so eloquently, James.

  4. Ellen K says:

    A pro-Savory conference is scheduled at Tufts this fall, and I’m eager to help counter it. This article is terrific, but I’m wondering about concerns two others here has raised about Monbiot: what caveats do I need to be aware of before citing this source?

  5. Taylor says:

    I notice that there has been some push-back from Savory supporters in the comments to Monbiot’s essay. One provides a link to this defence of Holistic Management, which includes references to published articles:
    James, can you give us your assessment of this?

    • James says:

      In order for Savory’s hypothesis to hold, he needs a grand slam of evidence. There’s no doubt that holistic grazing CAN work in some places at some times. But Savory is billing it as a universally-applied answer to global warming, a claim that needs evidence devoid of vagueness. Read the following support of Savory from the site you sent and note the failure to achieve irrefutable evidence and the vagueness:

      “The benefits of multi-paddock rotational grazing on commercial livestock enterprises have been evident for many years in many countries…. Many ranchers who have practiced multi-paddock grazing management for decades are very satisfied with the economic results and improvement to the ecosystem, as well as the change in management lifestyle and social environment of their ranch businesses. Such ranchers regularly win conservation awards from the ranching industry and natural resource professional organizations. In contrast, many grazing researchers have concluded that multi-paddock grazing offers no significant benefit over continuous grazing (Holechek et al. 1999, 2000; Briske et al. 2008), but their studies have been largely small-scale trials focused on the technical questions of ecological impacts and livestock production conducted in a relatively limited scope of fairly resilient landscapes. In addition, research plots are designed to reduce or eliminate variability, while ranch managers must manage in the environment with all the inherent variability othe landscape.”

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