Stephen Cadogan: Respected environmentalist on the side of the livestock

A respected environmentalist has hit back against the demonisation of beef.
Stephen Cadogan: Respected environmentalist on the side of the livestock

In 2003, Allan Savory won the Banksia award for the person doing the most for the environment on a global scale.

In 2010, the Savory Institute’s sister organisation, the Africa Centre for Holistic Management, won the Buckminster Fuller Challenge for working to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Now, the Savory Institute is one of 11 finalists in Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Earth Challenge to award scalable and sustainable ways of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

At the recent World Meat Congress in Uruguay, Allan Savory offered more than 700 meat industry leaders from 36 countries hope for their industry, which has been battered by public opinion.

“With livestock out of feedlots, and back on the land, properly managed,” he said, “we have the opportunity to regenerate deteriorating environments and to impact climate change significantly.”

It’s a welcome piece of encouraging news after so many scientists have targeted ruminant livestock as key contributors to global warming, due to their gaseous emissions.

Savory says agriculture has been a major cause of climate change not because of cattle but because the rise of modern, industrial agriculture destroyed soil life and rendered soils far less capable of storing carbon.

Wild cattle and pack-hunting predators evolved together with the vegetation and soils in the world’s grasslands, which cover the bulk of the earth’s landmass. But cattle are now up there with fossil fuels as a suspected leading cause of climate change.

At the World Meat Congress, Savory warned industry leaders they have no time to lose in changing public opinion about cattle — a necessary first step before policy-makers can propose truly new thinking like his own recipe for using properly managed livestock to restore soils to health, making them once again capable of storing vast amounts of carbon.

He said it is up to every one who cares about the future — but particularly the meat industry — to lead change in attitudes to livestock, by better informing the public about the critical role properly managed livestock must play in restoring soils, reversing desertification, and addressing climate change.

That is a daunting challenge, taking on the likes of pop queen Beyonce, former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, and the World Health Organisation, and hundreds of other powerful opinion formers, all advising us to eat less red meat.

Climate change activists have turned millions against cattle and meat, adding to those already angered by factory farming, inhumane handling of animals, and destruction of tropical forests to plant pastures for cattle.

Allan Savory warns the world will suffer if this tide of public opinion prevents livestock becoming part of the solution to global warming.

Loss of grasslands leads to climate change, floods, droughts, famine, and poverty. Based on studies and years of experience, Savory says it is guaranteed that if we graze livestock on grasslands, they will recover.

Their hooves break up the crust of algae on bare soil in dry areas, this encourages growth of grass. By trampling vegetation and coating it with manure, the livestock ensure the soil absorbs and retains more water and carbon, which can begin to reverse thousands of years of human-caused desertification.

The Savory Institute teaches how to manage herds of domestic livestock to sequester carbon into the soil (which can also increases its fertility and water storage).

It shows the world how to rethink its relationship with cattle — and feed more people in the process.

It could be a lifeline for the beleagured beef industry of the Institute is named as the evenutal winner of the $25m Virgin Earth Challenge prize.

In the meantime, the industry should heed Allan Savory’s warning, by turning against factory farming and taking other actions to reverse the fast deteriorating image of red meats.

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