By Elizabeth Murphy – Small Farms Program, Oregon State University
Food security and climate change are two of the most pressing global issues for people and the environment. Livestock production is considered a net greenhouse gas emitter, since the potent greenhouse gas, methane, is produced from ruminant digestion. Animal science studies have found reduced methane emissions with grain-based diets. Combined with the reduced land requirement of feedlot-type systems, this has led to the commonly-held suggestion that intensive cattle production systems, such as feedlots, are better than grass-based production in reducing agricultural carbon footprint and improving food security.
A new modeling study released last month in the report, What’s Your Beef?, found evidence to support the environmental benefits of traditional grass-based beef production and finishing. The National Trust, a conservation non-profit in the United Kingdom, determined that grass-based beef production actually had reduced greenhouse gas emissions when the carbon sequestration and storage of grassland pasture was considered. Furthermore, as grass-fed pastures are often not suitable to intensive crop production, grass farmers make use of marginal land to actually increase food security.