Can we save the planet by eating more grass-fed meat and dairy products?

We all “know” that overgrazing destroys the land, leading to soil loss, and eventually turning whole areas into deserts. And if overgrazing is the culprit then the answer must be grazing fewer animals, right. Well as obvious and true as this may appear, it turns out that everywhere it has been tried, reducing animal numbers or even taking them away entirely has actually accelerated soil loss and desertification.

A few brave scientists and graziers, including Allan Savory, looked to nature for advice and noticed that in healthy wild ecosystems there are a lot of grazing animals but they behave very differently than farm animals tend to be forced to behave.

Wild grazing herds bunch together in huge numbers, feed heavily in a small area for a day or less, and then move on to a new area leaving a trampled mass of vegetation and manure behind. And then the herd won’t return again to that spot for months or even until next year.

This “damage” to our eyes is actually precisely what the land and the plants need to regrow, reproduce, and increase in productivity. Replicating this by managing large groups of grazing livestock with fencing can very rapidly reverse soil loss and restore lush vegetation.

Watch Savory’s TED talk to hear his evolution as a range management scientist and see before and after photos of land he and his institute have been helping to reclaim with livestock.

And not only is land reclamation good for the land, the farmers, and everyone who wants to eat; returning desert to perennial grassland locks up huge amounts of carbon dioxide, that stuff that is heating up the atmosphere: Savory suggests that desertification is as much to blame as our profligate burning of fossil fuel for current climate change and that returning just half of the world’s desertified areas to grassland could halt the current warming trend.

So the answer to the question is “Yes!” and you can do your part by buying and eating grass-fed meat and dairy products and woolen clothing and accessories.