Guest Contributor— Answers Pet Food Nutrition Science Director, Billy Hoekman, is involved in Answers diet formulation, research, product development, as well as working with farms and fermented raw feeding science education. Leading Answers Executive Veterinary Program, Billy specializes in developing fermented raw diets that pertain to specific health conditions.
Rebuilding farmland, improving our food system and reversing climate change.
The carnivore’s logic: why eliminate the good while trying to fix the “bad”?
Popular propaganda can sway public opinions without merit if we, as consumers, don’t take a minute to do the research to validate or debunk the claims being made. Lately, in the area of environmental concerns, one piece of often-repeated propaganda has been leading to a thought conclusion that veganism or vegetarianism can save the world. “Give Up Meat to Save the Planet” is the cry.
But applying this overly simplistic line of thought is not the answer to environmental concerns.
In fact, when you look into the claims, what you’ll find is that this vegetarianism viewpoint is particularly detrimental to the land, and to animals, especially carnivores like dogs and cats that need protein to live and thrive. It’s propaganda, created with blinders on.
Animal agriculture is actually essential for the well-being of our land, and for feeding us and our pets.
Due to the misconception about animal agriculture, and the lies and misdirects that suggest the consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products can supposedly cause harm to the environment via their production, we think the subject warrants a closer examination of exactly where the problem lies before we come to a radical conclusion of eliminating animal agriculture altogether.
Animal culture: food for thought
The rate of environmental damage is certainly cause for great concern and this concern has become a priority to us, and to all those who are most eager to solve the issues at hand. But, the usual conclusion – ending animal agriculture will be a “solution” to the problem – is something we wholeheartedly disagree with. This solution viewpoint is particularly disturbing because of its heavy ramifications on the environment. Here’s why.
The idea of eliminating the consumption of livestock products is being sold to us as a solution to environmental impacts supposedly left by the animals. Meat, we’re told, is the connection to global warming. But how are they making this correlation?
Vegetarian proponents will say that Ruminants (cattle, sheep, goat, antelopes, deer) give off methane that in return creates a greenhouse effect on the environment.
In truth, though, there are several points to counter this opinion. First, these ideas are generally evaluated in the wrong order, unwittingly forming the incorrect conclusion that animal agriculture has a negative impact on the environment, therefore dogs and cats can eat plants, and that companies need to offer plant-based, carbohydrate, and/or vegan diets to pets.
Aside from disrupting our own natural food supply, how does this solution affect the biological needs of pets?
The “veg agenda” idea that we can label dogs as omnivores is one mistake. Omnivores are animals that eat food of both plant and animal origin. Although dogs can eat some plants, they are biologically carnivores. Their biological makeup is designed by nature to digest and thrive off of animal flesh. They need the nutrients that come from animal origins.
Cats are obligate carnivores which means they absolutely need animal flesh in order to live. They have no other biological option if they wish to survive, hence their innate, honed hunting skills in the wild. A cat will die without the biologically derived nutrients from animal flesh.
What does this mean? This means that our pets have no biological need for carbohydrates and plants, but an obvious need for the protein, fats and essential nutrients that come from animals.
It also means that the only logical approach would be to first ask the question, what kind of diet requirements do dogs and cats have, by nature, in order to survive and thrive health-wise? How can we best produce the foods to meet those diet needs according to what’s best for our environment? Is eliminating animal agriculture the solution?
And, is there a solution that will offer sustainable life to our pets and environment?
The answer to the last question is YES.
The root of the problem: factory farming
All that said, we agree on one topic: there isn’t a doubt that excessive greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides) are hurting the environment.
But where exactly are these gases coming from, and how much is being emitted? This is important, because painting the entire food and farming system with one brush is not only inaccurate, but dangerous to us all in the long run. So, let’s look at the truth of the matter.
Carbon dioxide makes up the majority of American agriculture-related greenhouse emissions. This is mainly coming from fuel burned to operate vehicles and equipment. Industrial farming has large-scale plant operations that require the major use of fuel.
These factory farms consist of an intensive animal feeding operation where numerous animals are confined in tight areas with little to no sunlight, no access to outdoors, or any access to their natural habitat and/or native food. Concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs) are unethical, have deplorable living conditions for the animals, and have a seriously negative impact on the well-being of livestock, and pose a serious detriment to the ecosystem and environment.
They also operate as a monoculture. A monoculture is the cultivation of a single crop or animal in the same area. This monoculture factory farming approach completely degrades the soil composition and depletes the microbes in the soil. Producing monocrops like corn, soybeans, potatoes or grains in the same area, time after time, depletes the earth of her nutrients. This is why farmers throughout history understood the need to rotate crops, and rest fields, and move animals for grazing.
It’s not the what but the how
Along with large farming operations that unnaturally house animals, their need for fuel to run farms and produce crops is massive. Oil is critical to run mechanized systems for feeding, plowing the land, planting the seeds, cultivating the soil, spraying pesticides and herbicides, and hauling materials.
In fact, here’s a shocker: the cost of fuel is often the biggest expense at large factory farming operations, and this cost is increasingly financially troublesome for farmers. But the answer is actually simple: they should be making massive cuts in the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in order to reduce the threat posed by climate change.
Instead, the modern industrial food system is lengthening its supply chains and increasing emissions to the point where it is a significant contributor to global warming – by manmade design, not by the nature of animal farming itself.
You can see this when you study smaller farms. In great contrast to these huge industrial farming practices, smaller, traditional farms and ranches will produce much lower carbon dioxide emissions because they keep their animals on pasture, the natural way, and make little use of having to house them in buildings, massive housing which requires the use of fuel to feed, light, ventilate and dispose of large amounts of sewage.
Shining sun on the simple truths
A great example is how raw grassfed butter is produced. Sun shines down on the pastures, where flourishing grasses are grazed upon by cows, which in return convert valuable natural nutrients into milk that the farmer extracts. Raw milk fat is skimmed and churned into butter. This simple, natural practice is completely solar-based and an environmentally friendly natural food that emits very little greenhouse gases.
The two vastly different practice paths of industrial farming enterprise versus smaller farms shows us pretty clearly that the end-product, whether it’s plant or animal based, isn’t determining whether it’s environmentally friendly or not.
The crux of the problem lies with exactly with how food is being handled and produced. Not what is being produced.
Real culprits of methane over-production
Methane is agriculture’s second-largest greenhouse gas. Methane comes from massive pools of manure emanating from industrial facilities. Cattle farming has been practiced for centuries, so why is this suddenly an issue?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) it isn’t a problem at traditional farms, but it has lately become an issue due to the rapid rise of factory farms. The livestock at factory farms aren’t able to forage on their native diets or live in their natural habitat, a bad situation that throws their digestive systems into distress.
The answer? Livestock nutrition experts have proven that making dietary improvements can cut enteric methane by half. According to researchers at Australia’s University of New England, adding certain proteins to ruminant diets can reduce methane production per unit of milk or meat by a factor of 4-6.1
So, let’s start from the ground up
In order to build a house, one needs a solid foundation. A pretty simple analogy. Depleting the earth of her natural life-sustaining offerings is not a good way to build and cultivate crops. We must regenerate the soil and earth, our solid foundation.
The discovery of America in the late 1400s was described as home to “60 million bison, 30 to 40 million pronghorns, ten million elk, ten million mule deer, and as many as two million mountain sheep.” Was methane harmful then? No. In fact, researchers at University of Louisiana have proven that methane emissions can be substantially reduced when cattle are regularly rotated onto fresh pastures.2
Again, it’s not the cattle, it’s the end product. It’s how they are raised.
Ruminants (those cattle, sheep, goat, antelopes, deer we mentioned earlier) rotationally graze by nature. Livestock strategically move from one fresh pasture to another to allow vegetation in previously grazed pastures to regenerate. Their manure, saliva and hooves stimulate the soil. Nutrients in the soil are reinvigorated, new plants grow, and the cycle of life continues. This system was developed over millions of years by biology and evolution. The earth needs grazing ruminants to occupy and contribute back to the soil in order to have flourishing healthy topsoil for the cycle to complete. As nature’s ecosystem would have it, bacteria in healthy soil absorbs carbon in the atmosphere as well.
As a marvelous innate operation for the well-being of the planet, this natural grazing system shows us why it’s so important to have animals graze in their natural habitat creating healthy soil so that the cycle may sustain and contribute life on all levels.
We’ve learned even more
In 2009, research at Sydney University showed that healthy soil bacteria absorb more methane per day than a cow produces in an entire year. 3 The beauty of this system is it’s completely self-sustaining and powered by the sun.
Carbon is the currency for most transactions within and between living things. Nowhere is this more evident than in the soil.
Respect Mother Nature and her built-in mechanisms: they work!
Answers Pet Food are stewards to livestock grazing, regenerative agriculture systems that beautiful mimic natural ecosystems, bringing biodiversity forward as a key practice.
This is not only healthy for the environment, but a much more effective solution than removing vital components, such as grazing livestock from the ecosystem. In fact, cattle grazing can increase vegetation by as much as 45 percent, North Dakota State University researchers have found.4 Small farmers have always known this and now there’s proof.
The result of proper farming methods that respect the earth is profound: it culminates in healthy foods for our pets, so they may be able to live and thrive off of their biological needs.
Food coming from these smaller, healthier farms are much more nutrient-dense than the foods produced at large monoculture operations or factory farms.
Our motto is you cannot get healthy food from sick animals. Now, you know why we say this.
Bottom line: your pet isn’t a vegetarian
The truth is, forcing your pet to become a vegan or vegetarian isn’t going to save the environment.
In fact, believing the false popular propaganda will make your pet’s body operate unnaturally, under extreme stress from lack of proper nutrition. Your pet will get sick, or in the case with obligate carnivores like cats, your pet can even die.
However, being a conscientious consumer and supporting responsible farms will help both your pets and our environment.
Buying from regenerative farms, or companies that produce food from organic farms is a better solution to a healthier environment than accepting factory farming practices that generate toxic pollution, house sick animals, deplete the earth and deny a natural food system to us and all living creatures.
For healthy pets, healthy people, and a healthy world, replacing the propaganda with informed consumers who are armed with the information they need to know they should buy their foods from good regenerative farms and the companies that mindfully produce their food from organic farms, is the solution we can all live with for our best lives on this beautiful earth that we’re lucky to share.
- Leng, R. A. 1993. Quantitative ruminant nutrition – A green science. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 44: 363-80.
- Methane Emissions of Beef Cattle on Forages: Efficiency of Grazing Management Systems, H. Alan DeRamus,* Terry C. Clement, Dean D. Giampola, and Peter C. Dickison, Journal of Environmental Quality, January 2003
- University of Adelaide. “Potential for reduced methane from cows.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 July 2019.
- Llewellyn L. Manske PhD 2004. Biologically Effective Grazing Management North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center. https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/archive/dickinso/research/2003/range03a.htm
- Animal. 2015 Jan;9(1):130-7. doi: 10.1017/S1751731114002067. Epub 2014 Aug 28.
Methane emissions from beef cattle grazing on semi-natural upland and improved lowland grasslands. Richmond AS1, Wylie AR1, Laidlaw AS2, Lively FO3.
- Albrecht Glatzle (November 5th 2018). Domestic Livestock and Its Alleged Role in Climate Change, Forage Groups, Ricardo Loiola Edvan and Edson Mauro Santos, IntechOpen, DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.80389.