A true story of regenerative cow farming, ultra-low carbon dog food and the Ethically Raised ethos.
This is a statement from our founder David Kemp. He started this journey with a passion for regenerative agriculture and spent years gathering data, opinions and opposition to develop his own well-informed viewpoints backed by the information he has found. Our founder has written this article, and it is what he truly believes in and has built Ethically Raised upon. His opinion may differ from the current global narrative, but this is the foundation he has laid out and is building the company upon.
Why do we state that we are offering beyond sustainable and ultra-low carbon dog food when ‘red meat and cattle are destroying the planet’?
Well, because the short answer is that they are not.
The long answer is more complicated, so I will do my best to give you a simple breakdown before we get into links to other websites and the pioneering scientists behind our beliefs.
So, let's start with the cows and farming methods we use for our recipes because they are an integral part of this complex subject. There are irresponsible ways to manage farm land, and then there are holistic ways. The destructive methods include overgrazing, water contamination, removal of trees, bushes and shrubs, chemical fertilisers, chemical pesticides, and biodiversity removal.
But what makes our cows different from the above is a practice called regenerative agriculture, and it’s made up of multiple layers that make the practice better for the animals, land, us and the planet.
So, what is regenerative agriculture and how does it affect cow farming?
With regenerative agriculture, farmers are moving large ruminants to new rested ground. This means that cows are mob grazed on a section of land for only 1 to 3 days and then do not return for 90+ days to allow the land to fully recover and grow new grass. Traditionally, the cow should eat a third of the grasses, stamp on a third and leave the final third — it's the best way to manage grasslands and actually mimics how grazing buffalo have been land-managing for millions of years, naturally followed by the predators that keep them constantly moving.
Along with this practice, we want to see more trees being planted, more bushes and shrubs being introduced, and we don't want to see any fertilisers used. Instead, farmers are using multiple animal species to mimic what happens in nature by having them follow the cows; for example, sheep, goats, turkeys, geese and chickens will follow.
We also don't want to see any pesticides used. This is for many reasons to do with the planet and nature, but the main one is that we want to increase biodiversity. Biodiversity is hugely important to the practice, and it's something you see on regenerated farms working in harmony with nature.
A genuinely regenerative system also 100% grass feeds all their cows, thus not needing food to be grown, mixed or transported to them.
Regenerative agricultural practices look like this:
- Cover cropping
- No-till farming
- Organic annual crops
- Holistically managed grazing patterns
- Biochar and Terra Preta
- Animal integration (cows with sheep, chickens, goats etc.)
- Ecological aquaculture
- Perennial crops
Why do we believe cow herds that follow the natural order don't affect the planet?
A few reasons. One is something called GWP* (a massive correction of GWP100 or CO2eq which we will talk about later), and something else called the Cattle Carbon Cycle, or as UC Davis — a tier-one research university, the world's #2 in agriculture and forestry and the world's #5 in environmental engineering — calls it, the Biogenic Carbon Cycle.
Biogenic Carbon Cycle or the Cattle Carbon Cycle
Let's start with this cycle and why ruminants exist in the first place. Carbon is primarily stored in the ground and has been since the planet formed. There are many ways it can be released into the atmosphere naturally and, contrary to what we're used to hearing, positively. Without CO2 in the atmosphere, we wouldn't be able to live on the planet: the sun's rays would kill us and the earth would be too cold.
So, when cows eat grass, they eat the carbon stored in the grasses themselves, and this CO2 goes into the meat, poo and gases. The main issue here comes from when the cows burp.
Think about it like this — when humans breathe, we breathe out CO2, and the same is true for cows. However, their carbon atom is bonded with hydrogen, expelling their gas as CH4, or Methane. This is then released into the atmosphere, where it encounters the free radicals (Hydroxyl Radicals OH) produced by the soils that the cows are grazing on. Once the Methane meets these radicals, it breaks down into CO2 and water. The CO2 released then comes back down via photosynthesis (sunlight + H20 + CO2), then is safely stored back in the ground, with the process taking between 10 to 12 years.
So, the cows poo. Grass roots grow. And that one-third of the grass is being trodden in by the cows. Because of the cows and them eating the grass, carbon is taken out of the atmosphere via grass and plant matter and is pumped back into the soil in an energy exchange between soil microbes and the grasses that store carbon.
This is called Carbon Sequestration. All of these factors combined lead to new soils, which in turn lead to more carbon being stored and locked away by microbial life cycles. Regeneratively farmed land also stores water significantly better, preventing flooding and erosion.
Interestingly, Carbon Sequestration is never accounted for by climate scientists when it comes to cattle farming, and the fact that Methane only lasts 12 years in the atmosphere is also overlooked.
Why do we need to rethink Methane?
According to UC Davis, Methane is what’s known as a flow gas, and CO2 is a stock gas.
Once emitted, a stock gas keeps building over time and stays in the environment, whereas a flow gas remains stagnant as it is broken down at the same emission rate, remaining stable and level.
This means that with an established herd (over 12 years of being at the same size, which most farms practice), the Methane released today will be gone tomorrow because the same amount of Methane is being destroyed at the same rate that the farm is emitting it.
In addition, according to the IPCC GWP100 — which every climate study uses as their baseline — claims about cows are wrong by a factor of 5. This means they have overstated and overestimated the climate effect of this type of farming a whopping five times over, the findings of GWP* uncovered.
Remember, all Methane is not created equal
Methane from fossil fuels is introduced as a new carbon atom into the atmosphere when it breaks down, increasing the CO2 levels. Humans pump billions of tonnes of CO2 and CH4 into the atmosphere via the use of fossil fuels where their ancient carbon was stored by animals millions of years ago.
However, Biogenic Methane is from cattle that recycle the carbon being pulled from the atmosphere by photosynthesis and stored by the plants that the cows consume. The big difference is that fossil fuel carbon is released directly into the atmosphere on a one-way trip.
What about all of the land cow farming takes?
Another mistaken figure that is used to stigmatise cow farming because they 'need more land than crops', for example. In fact, the type of land needed to grow crops is called arable land, but most of the land used by cattle is called marginal land that cannot be used to grow crops. Marginal land actually covers around 60% of the world's agricultural land.
So, the theory that removing cows from our land would free up more space to grow crops is untrue and misleading. This huge 60% of land is simply either too steep or too rocky and/or arid to support crop cultivation. However, this land can support cows and upcycle the protein that would otherwise be wasted in the grasslands.
In addition, I believe cows and other animals should be rotated on arable land, too, to fertilise croplands and to be there to eat cover crops and weeds. They are a crucial part of a healthy, holistic farming cycle.
And what about farmers taking up lots of land to use for animal feed?
Again, this is not really the truth: a very, very small amount of land is used to feed cows directly, generally carried out by small dairy farmers using their own land to grow crops to be fed directly to their own cows. It's not a common practice since most farmers grow grass pastures to feed cows.
Around 70% of a cow's diet is grass (this may differ depending on beef versus dairy), while around 5% is made of direct grains, 6% is the byproduct from crops, silage from other crops makes up 17% and about 2% is fodder beet. The actual percentage looks different from farm to farm, and some farms use many more crop byproducts as feed, for example:
- Spent oats leftover from making oat milk
- Cotton seeds leftover from making cotton clothing
- Barley leftover from making bread and beer
- Soybean cake leftover after oil is extracted for vegetable oil and biofuels
- The whole rest of the plant once the corn on the cob is harvested
Crop byproducts are good but 100% grass-fed is great
Livestock including cows, sheep, pigs and chickens turn food that humans cannot digest into protein. It's technically a good thing, as according to the FAO Global Food Security, 86% of the feed intake by livestock is made of these byproducts and grasses. Grass and leaves 46%, crop residues 19%, fodder crops 8%, oilseed cakes 5%, byproducts 5%, other non-edibles 3%, foods we can eat such as grains 13% and other edibles 1%.
However, many of these crops could be recycled into compost, and we genuinely believe that cows should only be fed 100% grass. This is in line with Pasture For Life's and A Greener World's standards that fight for this quality diet on a daily basis. So, while using byproducts to create animal feed is better than growing crops specifically for this purpose, we will only ever buy 100% grass-fed cows, and we are committed to reducing soy in the industry, along with partners like The Ethical Butcher.
Wait, don't cows have higher emissions than cars?
Let's take the US (we will come back to the UK later). According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all livestock, including pigs, chickens, sheep and cows, make up only 3.9% of the US GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Cows create just 2% of that total. Crops are higher at 4.7%, and cars and transportation are at a whopping 28.5%.
So no, cows do not and have never been higher than cars. Especially when you consider cows are emitting a flow gas and cars a stock gas.
For the UK, it's a similar story with agriculture (including crops) at 10% and transportation (including cars) at 27%.
Ok, so that's the basics. Probably a little more complicated than expected, but this is a highly complex matter.
Do get in touch if you have any questions for me and I appreciate you taking the time to read about why we do what we do here at Ethically Raised!
Here come the studies and articles I have collated over the years to create my standpoint and that of Ethically Raised. They are referenced in what I have laid out above and will also give you a much deeper dive into this matter should you wish to learn everything you can about your food — and your pets'!
Using GWP*, the UK ruminant farming, in theory, has not contributed to any additional warming for the last few decades:
- Climate metrics for ruminant livestock— University of Oxford, Oxford Martin School
- Climate pollutants— University of Oxford, Oxford Martin School
- A solution to the misrepresentations of CO2-equivalent emissions of short-lived climate pollutants under ambitious mitigation— npj Climate and Atmospheric Science
Oxford University's Dr Myles Allen is one of the leading scientists behind GWP*. Dr Myles Allen is Professor of Geosystem Science in the School of Geography and the Environment and Department of Physics at the University of Oxford, and he is Director of the Oxford Net Zero initiative. He was the Coordinating Lead Author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 's Special Report on 1.5 degrees, having served on the IPCC's 3rd, 4th and 5th Assessments, including the Synthesis Report Core Writing Team in 2014. Dr Myles Allen, whose team proposed GWP* (Global Warming Potential star) as an alternative to CO2e (Carbon Dioxide-equivalent), gave this statement to the EU using the incorrect GWP100: "Achieving climate neutrality in terms of metric-equivalent emissions could mean eliminating practices, such as ruminant agriculture, that are not actually causing global warming. Warming-equivalent emissions resolve this problem."
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published part of its sixth assessment report:
- High confidence in methane metric could be good for national herd— The Farmers Journal
- Chapter 7 of the report— Linked by UC Davis
- Excerpt from the IPCC report on Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis - states: "New emission metric approaches such as GWP" and CCTP [Combined Global Temperature Potential] are designed to relate emission changes in short-lived greenhouse gases to emissions of CO2 as they better account for the different physical behaviours of short and long-lived gases. Using either [of] these new approaches, or treating short- and long-lived GHG emission pathways separately, can improve the quantification of the contribution of emissions to global warming within a cumulative emission framework, compared to approaches that aggregate emissions of GHGs using standard CO2 equivalent emission metrics. There is high confidence that multi-gas emission pathways with the same time dependence of aggregated C02 equivalent emissions estimated from standard approaches, such as weighting emissions by their GWP-100 values, rarely lead to the same estimated temperature outcomes."
This article shows that it is possible to drive more carbon into the ground than what is emitted. This doesn't happen everywhere but is a very positive sign of what can be done:
Why eating less meat doesn't save the planet:
- What happens if the United States stopped eating meat?— Dr Frank Mitloehner, Professor of Air Quality for UC Davis for UC Davis
- Eating less meat won't save the planet. Here's why.— Dr Frank Mitloehner
- What are the differences between stock and flow gases?— CLEAR Center at UC Davis
- Why Methane from cattle warms the climate differently than CO2 from fossil fuels— CLEAR Center at UC Davis
- Rethinking Methane (longand short versions) — NZ Roundtable Sustainable Beef
For full transparency, the following articles about Methane are opinion-based but share useful scientific factors:
- Methane: Accounting for both sides of the scale— Regeneratarianism (Formerly LA Chefs Column)
- WTF happens to all that Methane?— Regeneratarianism (Formerly LA Chefs Column)
- Ruminations: Methane math and context—
Impact of soya usage:
- Are dairy cows and livestock behind the growth of soya in South America?— Sustainable food trust
This article shows how humans cause huge amounts of unnatural methane leaks that contribute to why the methane bubble is becoming so large:
- Texas Methane Super Emitters— New York Times
Here is a really shocking study that we didn't cover above because it is a lot more complicated. The EPA has underestimated Methane from fossil fuels by up to a MASSIVE 76%; this means we were misled to believe it was cows when actually a significant amount of poor accounting could be to blame:
- Study: EPA underestimated methane emissions from oil and gas development— Zack Budryk for The Hill in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Half of global methane emissions come from aquatic ecosystems:
- Half of global methane emissions come from highly variable aquatic ecosystem sources— Judith A. Rosentreter et al for Nature.com
How grasslands are more reliable carbon sinks than trees:
- Grasslands more reliable carbon sink than trees— Kat Kerlin for UC Davis
- Excerpt: Forests have long served as a critical carbon sink, consuming about a quarter of the carbon dioxide pollution produced by humans worldwide. But decades of fire suppression, warming temperatures and drought have increased wildfire risks — turning California's forests from carbon sinks to carbon sources. A study from the University of California, Davis, found that grasslands and rangelands are more resilient carbon sinks than forests in 21st century California. As such, the study indicates they should be given opportunities in the state's cap-and-and trade market, which is designed to reduce California's greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
How oil production is responsible for around 40% of methane emissions today, with leaks across the natural gas value chain accounting for the remaining 60%.
- Methane Tracker 2021— iea.org
The science of regenerative agriculture:
The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture's carbon footprint in North America — W.R. Teague et al for Soil and Water Conservation Society