Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Holistic Management Means Hope for Sustainable Meat Production

In his TED talk, Allan Savory proposes holistic management of grazing livestock which goes against the popular idea that overgrazing leads to desertification. Savory,  proposes that the controlled and planned grazing of livestock by mimicking nature is the answer to the restoration of desertified land. The main goal is to increase the retention of water in the soil. He claims that with renewed ecosystems, CO2 sequestration will lead to preindustrial greenhouse  gas levels.

Savory takes heavy criticism from James McWilliams. McWilliams claims that Savory is advocating eating more meat. If anything he is advocating for more sustainable meat production by allowing livestock to live on the open land in large numbers, unlike our current livestock practices within industrial meat production. 
McWilliams also claims that Savory ignores the fact that some of these areas are ecologically thriving desert habitats. I don't believe these are the places Savory was speaking of. Of course desert flora will move into a space and thrive if it has been desertified. The areas Savory is focused on are ones in which grasslands thrived in years past and are in need of restoration in order to support the region and its people.
I do agree with McWilliams when he argues that, "It’s difficult to imagine how a human-managed ecosystem such as Savory’s—dependent on manipulating the genetics of livestock, building sturdy fences, manufacturing supplemental feed, and exterminating predators—is more representative of “nature’s complexity” than a healthy desert full of organisms that have co-evolved over millennia." I agree that mimicking the healthy ecology of grazing animals is very complex. Scientific study must oversimplify ideas in an attempt to understand them. The fact is that the organisms that had evoloved in that habitat have been destroyed so humans must do their best to restore it. A delicate balance must be struck and the long term effects of holistic management must be closely monitored in order to evaluate its positive or negative affects on the ecosystem.

An issue not addressed by Savory was the methane production by larger herds of livestock. Livestock production accounts for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, including 9 percent of carbon dioxide and 37 percent of methane gas emissions worldwide (Cassandra Brooks). I believe holistic management can reduce these gases. Penn State found that the methane emissions of animals during a pre-settlement period in the United States was equal to 70% of current emmissions in the United States (Dr. Alexander Hristov, 2011). From this I can conclude that  increased livestock on open grasslands as an alternative to industrial meat production will lower emission.
As a vegetarian, access to meat that is raised humanely is appealing to me. Even though Savory was not advocating eat more meat, I would be much more willing to buy and eat meat from a system that is sustainably run. Lets bring back the cowboys(and girls). Ranching techniques used in conjunction with holistic management could be a viable alternative to the industrialized meat industry. Reviving ecosystems and renewing our climate with higher sequestration of carbon are exciting outcomes to a moral livestock and meat production infrastructure.  If Allan Savory were advocating eating more meat he meant for us to do it in support of holistic management.

Allan Savory. TED talk: "How to fight desertification and reverse climate change" Web: http://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_world_s_deserts_and_reverse_climate_change.html
Dr. Alexander Hristov, 2011. "Wild Ruminants Burp Methane, too" Web: http://extension.psu.edu/animals/dairy/news/2011/wild-ruminants-burp-methane-too
James McWilliams, 2013. "All Sizzle and No Steak: Why Allan Savory’s TED talk about how cattle can reverse global warming is dead wrong." Web: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2013/04/allan_savory_s_ted_talk_is_wrong_and_the_benefits_of_holistic_grazing_have.2.html
Cassandra Brooks. "Consequences of increased global meat consumption on the global environment -- trade in virtual water, energy & nutrients" Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Web: http://woods.stanford.edu/environmental-venture-projects/consequences-increased-global-meat-consumption-global-environment 

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