Is Eating Meat Sustainable?

There are negative environmental factors resulting from the standard process of agriculture and livestock farming including excessive water and fossil energy use and large emissions of greenhouse gases, these methodologies make it seem unrealistic that the current food production system can sustain the planet, let alone support the Paleo diet.

Conscientious humans do not wish to contribute to an ecological collapse, however, the rising numbers of diet related illnesses indicate that a shift is necessary both in how food is produced and what is chosen or deemed best as a food source.

Commercial livestock production stresses the land. However, with proper methodologies, ruminants can actually be benefactors to preserve ecosystems, produce food from inedible sources, restore soil fertility, and recycle plant nutrients.

The Paleo diet emphasizes food quality and ethical farming practices as much as it does the types of food to consume. Pastured and grass-fed proteins are recommended as they are an investment in both the environment and present and future physical well-being. As the demand for sustainable animal protein grows, agricultural boards and organizations can provide more research and education to ranchers to reduce their use of water, pesticides, and feed grain.

The Benefits of Pastured Proteins

Feeding Livestock

Grass on a pasture contributes little to the environmental destruction created by large mono-cropped fields. The corn and soy for the animals come from industrial grain farms that destroy local ecosystems, leak pesticides into the air and water, and require mass quantities of ecologically dangerous fertilizers.

Land Usage

Most pasture land is not arable and is often unfit for crop farming. Goats, pigs, chickens, cows, and many other animals can thrive on marginal land that is unsuitable for vegetable or grain production. Pasturing ruminants on this land is adding to the net food supply, because it’s using land that otherwise is unable be used to produce food. The resources put into food for factory-farmed cows could, instead be used to grow food for humans as opposed to inefficiently growing food for livestock.

Soil Quality

Industrial agriculture strips land of nutrients and degrades the soil. Since 1960, the US has lost half of its topsoil, and 90% of agricultural land is losing topsoil at an unsustainable rate. On the contrary, grazing cows on pasture improves soil quality and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Water Usage

Pasture-raised meat takes a much smaller toll on fresh water supplies. Agriculture is responsible for 85% of water use in North America. Conventionally raising animal protein requires 100 times more water, per calorie, than plant protein. This is mostly due to the water required to grow feed for the animals. Very little of this amount is water consumed by the animals themselves. When animals are pastured there is no need for excessive water to grow the corn and soy to feed the animals.


Pastured cows do eat some forage, but for the most part, the grass is already in the pasture and doesn’t need to be trucked anywhere. This dramatically cuts down on fossil fuel use. Modern factory farming practices employ excessive use of fossil fuels transportation alone. After being grown, corn or soy destined for feed has to be trucked out to a feed manufacturer. Here it is processed and the transported via truck, again, to the feedlots. This is clearly not optimal for fossil fuel utilization, greenhouse gas emissions and the planet.

Antibiotics and Steroids

Both antibiotics and steroids are used in conventionally farmed animals to promote growth and pre-emptively prevent illness. Use of low-dose antibiotics as growth promoters provides ideal conditions for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to proliferate. These can then be passed on to humans. Pastured animals are raised using ethical and more organic philosophies. Antibiotic resistance is a much smaller issue, as antibiotics are used only if an animal gets sick.

Waste, Greenhouse Gases and Methane

Feedlots produce excessive amounts of waste, manure and biohazardous materials. These often carry dangerous pathogens thanks to the crowded and unsanitary conditions that the cows live in. weather related conditions, blockages and floods can result in this unsanitary product streaming into rivers, polluting the surrounding environment and creating possible health hazards. An example of this is the large “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico created by the pollution from toxic manure from factory farms.

Cows that eat their biologically appropriate diet (grass) produce manure which in turn fertilizes the grass that they eat. This eliminates the need for dangerous industrial fertilizers, and reduces the risk of a flood of feces-borne E. Coli into the surrounding environment.

While methane doesn't linger as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, it is initially far more devastating to the climate because of how effectively it absorbs heat. Environmentally-friendly food should produce as little methane as possible. Pastured cows and other ruminants do produce methane as a by-product of fermenting the fiber in their diet. The more fibrous plant material they eat, the more methane they produce. Superficially this could imply that grass-fed meat is worse for the planet. On deeper investigation it becomes evident that grazing actually sequesters carbon in the soil, reducing the net climate impact of grass-fed cows.

In fact, growing industrial feed and trucking it across the country produces significantly more greenhouse gas than the cows themselves. Pasturing and ethically raising cattle can actually have a positive net impact on the environment.

Environmentally Conscious Agriculture

As the Paleo movement has progressed, the focus has shifted from simply ‘what to eat’, to ‘where to get food from’. Following a Paleo lifestyle and adhering to Paleo principles means sourcing and locating local farms who produce pastured animals raised on species-appropriate diets. This is the best way to improve food quality along with address and alleviate other environmental and health concerns.

Animals that are raised in this manner that perform their ecological functions foster as opposed to hamper, the most important thing that environmental sustainability hinges upon: biodiversity. Pastured animals and local farms also support decentralizing the food system, providing an important step towards agricultural sustainability and food security.

Eating organically raised plants and pasture-based animals from local sources, while avoiding hyper-palatable overly processed foods that have undergone much manipulation and traveled long distances to get to your plate is the most healthful way to live. This is the heart of the Paleo diet.

Pete’s Paleo takes great pride in sourcing humanely, ethically and naturally raised animals and produce from local farms who care as much about the food the produce as you do about the food you choose to eat. All meals are created from seasonal, sustainable, nourishing ingredients, deliciously crafted and prepared with love, delivered right to your door to be ready when you are – no apron required. Check out all your weekly options and choices…

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