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Pasture: the secret to feeding the world? Part 2

News Icon 22/04/2015

This is the second in a three-part series of articles by John Meadley of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association. He explains further why raising animals intensively is wrong from various perspectives, including harm to the environment, consumers, and the animals themselves.

As feedlot production trucks in feed from outside the pens in which the animals are kept, they produce much more manure than the surrounding area can absorb. That presents a disposal problem. The animals’ faeces and urine are frequently collected in large lagoons, which produce significant levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and pollute local waterways. In contrast, the manures from animals raised on pasture fertilise the land on which they feed, fertilise it, thereby maintaining a natural equilibrium between food production and manure disposal.

Most of the grain fed in feedlots could be eaten much more efficiently by people. Why feed it to animals? Animals raised on pasture convert a product that cannot be consumed by humans into something that they can consume and, in most cases, the farm animals are on land unsuited to producing grains.

Animals raised on pasture express their innate characteristics and tend to be healthier. They’re under less stress and often self-medicate on the diverse species in their pastures. A recent report on the Irish dairy industry demonstrated the benefits of grazing rather than confinement, including improved health, lower mortality, and lower levels of calving difficulties.

Meat from animals raised wholly on pasture is healthier for the consumer. It is lower in total fat and the saturated fats linked with heart disease. Grass-raised animals have higher levels in total omega-3 fatty acids, a healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, and is higher in conjugated linoleic acid, vitamin E, B vitamins, beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. But these benefits are found only in ruminants raised just on pasture. They’re lost in those animals finished on grain for the last two to three months. Butter is no longer shunned by the medical profession. The government’s Meat Advisory Panel recently emphasised the value of red meat in a balanced diet, particularly from pasture-fed cattle and sheep.

Grain is generally grown in large fields with most other flora and fauna eliminated through the use of herbicides and pesticides. In contrast, most pastures contain a variety of plant species, including herbs, wildflowers, and clovers. This mixture provides a varied diet for the animals, rich in essential vitamins and minerals drawn up from the soil below, and supporting a diverse range of wildlife.

In the third of this three-part series, John Meadley explains why the future is pasture.


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