The green keto meat eater, part 3

Can a person eat a low-carb or ketogenic diet — with meals regularly featuring meat and dairy products — and still be an environmentally-conscious individual who is contributing to the betterment of the planet? The answer, as you will see in this three-part guide by Anne Mullens, is a firm yes. But there are a few facts to understand and some choices to make.

Part 1 of this series looked at the heated debate that is shaming, blaming and claiming that meat eaters put more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere than cars; and shared ways to consider being a greener keto or LCHF meat eater.

Part 2 delved into the inspiring and burgeoning regenerative agriculture movement, that is using livestock in specific grazing patterns to draw carbon dioxide out of the air, store it in the soil for increased soil fertility and help reverse GHG emissions.

Part 3, below, explores the burgeoning financial levers, climate agreements, policies and programs that are helping to take a nascent movement and grow it into a realistic, widespread agricultural practice with products made more available to all. Can we get there? Keto and low-carb consumers have a key role.


Part 3: Five factors helping regenerative agriculture become realistic, affordable and available for all

“Grass-fed beef? It’s too expensive!”

“Support local regenerative farmers? There aren’t any where I live!”

“Regenerative agriculture would require a complete restructuring of our food systems and is totally unrealistic to feed 9 billion people.”

“It is too little too late for agriculture to help reverse climate change.”

“Climate change is not a problem so I’m not going to change what I’m doing.”

These comments, and more, are typical responses from people who hear about, and dismiss, the burgeoning regenerative agriculture movement and its documented impact on improving the environment, particularly capturing green house gas emissions and storing more carbon in the soil.

Granted it can seem like an extraordinarily daunting, even impossible, task to convert enough of the world’s agriculture systems from polluting industrial, factory-farmed models to regenerative agriculture methods to make a big enough difference.

But experts say it can be done — if people understand what changes are needed at the local, regional and global level.

As discussed in detail in part 2, regenerative agriculture’s practices capture and store more carbon from the atmosphere into the soil using specific forms of planned grazing of livestock on grasslands, no-till farming, cover crops, compost mulches, interplanting, and agroforestry, such as farmers planting fast-growing trees on fallow land or grazing livestock among trees, called silvopasture.

Happily, there are substantial benefits to the farmer to do this: more fertile soil, lower operational costs, better quality products. And one of the terrific benefits of adopting these techniques — for livestock — is a much more humane and natural form of animal husbandry that has animals living out the bulk of their existence in ways most complementary to their innate biology. Or in the words attributed to famous regenerative farmer, Joe Salatin of Polyface Farms, “Honouring the pigness of the pig and the chickenness of the chicken.” It is a win for all: animals, farmers, consumers, the planet.

In many countries, however, agricultural policies and subsidies support the more industrial, factory-farmed methods of livestock rearing, to the tune of an estimated $486 billion annually. This is what makes products like factory-farmed meat cheaper; the true cost of raising it — including the cost to the environment — is not taken fully into account.

“There are so many unintended consequences of our existing food system,” said Jason Rowntree, PhD, an associate professor of Animal Science at Michigan State University, who researches the impact of agricultural systems. “If we were faced with the real [environmental] cost of food production, I think things would change in a hurry.”

The good news is that in the past year regenerative agriculture has been receiving a huge boost from a number of key global developments. These developments are moving it from the realm of “nice, but unrealistic” to a feasible force in the future of innovative farming.

Cows on a meadow in morinng

Why should low-carb keto eaters care?

Why should followers of Diet Doctor, who are eating the low-carb ketogenic diet, care about these agricultural and environmental issues? The key reason is that informed and motivated consumers have essential roles to play in the shape of our food systems in the years ahead.

Low-carb ketogenic eaters, perhaps more than most, know inherently that the type and quality of the food we eat has a direct bearing on our personal, and loved ones’, health and wellness. We know first-hand how highly processed refined carbs — sugar, wheat, potatoes, rice, all of which predominantly now come from industrial mono-cropped agricultural systems — undermine our health. We have a direct interest in ensuring the availability, affordability, and quality of meat, dairy, and above ground vegetables rather than being forced to rely on highly processed “fake meats” made out of carbs. It is clear that how food is grown and produced in our agricultural systems not only impacts its affordability, nutrition and quality, but our own health, and the health of the planet, too. It is all connected.

So how do we get there? Here is a great report from a May 2017 international meeting about using regenerative agriculture to store enough carbon in the soil to make a difference. The report is a must-read for anyone wanting a nuanced and detailed understanding of the full range of global issues, possibilities and practicalities. Perhaps the most important outcome of the meeting, however, is the overwhelming consensus that despite challenges to work out, enough is known about storing carbon in the soil through regenerative agriculture that it can immediately be used by farmers, regions, states and countries to make a real difference. In short: just do it.

And, whether or not most consumers know or care, it is being done. Here are five key global developments, in the last year, that are helping regenerative agriculture practices hit the big time. These developments have the potential to make regenerative agriculture much more financially viable.

1. Major milestones reached for agricultural negotiations in climate talks

Do your eyes glaze over when you see anything about the 2015 Paris Agreement or the now 24 annual global meetings negotiating technicalities about climate agreements since 1995, called the Conference of the Parties (COP)? Climate negotiations are full of arcane legal and political language, rife with impenetrable acronyms that repel all but the most ardent climate geeks. But here are two key facts to know.

Takeaway: Including agriculture in the Paris Agreement and overcoming a technical impasse around agriculture are both being hailed as a major victories that will have countries and regions signing on to commit to positive, not punitive, agricultural actions towards climate change. Soil carbon sequestration and regenerative agriculture — including better management of livestock — are top priorities for agricultural action.

2. France’s 4 per 1,000 initiative picks up steam

A major voluntary agricultural initiative led by France was launched at the same time as the Paris Agreement. Called the 4 per 1000 initiative, it aims to increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil by 0.4 % each year through better agricultural practices, reforestation and improvement of degraded lands. Hundreds of partners, including countries, regions, states, industries, NGOs and more, have already signed on.

An annual growth rate of just 0.4% more carbon stored in the soil carbon would halt the increase in the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere related to human activities. The 4 per 1,000 initiative estimates that the cost for farmers would be about $10 a hectare. While it has some doubters (who modeled standard chemical and not regenerative methods of agriculture) others are hailing it as a laudable, bold, achievable target.

Take away: The 4 per 1,000 initiative is the first voluntary global scale program to commit and document agricultural soil carbon sequestration solutions. Significant action under it is already taking place, which will help spread the concepts behind soil carbon sequestration far and wide.

3. Carbon markets: paying farmers for banking carbon in the soil.

So how does all of this get financed? Who pays the bill? One way to finance it is through emissions trading systems, or carbon markets that put a price on carbon. These markets could pay farmers a fee for increasing carbon storage in their soil.

A gazillion articles, videos, policy papers, organizations and more delve into the ins and outs of carbon markets and carbon taxes. This 2017 US report lays out some of the powerful potential of “The New Carbon Economy.”

Here is a short animated video, using chickens to illustrate the principle in regenerative agriculture. To really be inspired, watch this excellent 12-minute video, posted in June 2018, that demonstrates how Australia is already paying farmers millions annually, with $1.9 billion already committed, to use regenerative agriculture to store more carbon in the soil — with great results in healthy thriving farms, and high quality affordable food, like grass-fed beef.

The World Bank noted in May 2018 that some 70 jurisdictions (countries and sub-national entities) already have functioning carbon markets. In a related May 2018 news release, the World Bank reported that carbon pricing initiatives continue to gain considerable traction around the world. In 2017 alone, governments raised US $33 billion in carbon pricing revenues, a 50% increase over the US$22 billion raised in 2016.

Paying farmers incentives to store carbon is still in its infancy, but is already happening or in planning stages in a number of jurisdictions including Alberta Canada, six US states, and Australia.

The World Bank has set up its Networked Carbon Markets to work with governments, the private sector, academia and civil society. It aims to develop and pilot innovative tools, services and institutions to support bottom-up, linked international climate markets — which under the Paris Agreement could now include farmers and the agricultural sector.

Take away: Putting a price on carbon makes the ability to store it in the soil a valuable commodity — for farmers, investors, companies, and governments. Applied to regenerative agriculture, a functional carbon economy gives tangible incentives and financial heft for the wider adoption of agricultural practices that draw CO2 from the atmosphere. For a farmer, sequestering carbon in the soil could be like storing money in the bank.

4. Technology may assist in tracking and paying for carbon credits

All very nice, but how can carbon markets be kept honest and transparent? How can a small farmer get the payment? One of the longstanding issues in existing carbon markets is the lack of transparent, independent verification, and clear accountability which has reduced trust in the process and made some carbon markets susceptible to double counting, fraud and other unintended consequences.

Enter blockchain — the tamper-proof, transparent digital ledger. It is now receiving a huge boost with applications to climate change issues. Yes, blockchain is surrounded by a lot of hype and uncertainty — and only IT nerds now truly understand its powerful potential. While it has received the most attention to date for its use in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, blockchain can be applied to any transaction. It is being hailed as having a significant application to climate change and environmental issues. This article and accompanying video looks at 7-ways blockchain can save the environment.

One block chain application would be to keep carbon markets honest, transparent and able to make carbon credits a tangible, traceable asset that anyone can use — such as a farmer storing more carbon in his soil by the way he manages his livestock.

In a June 2017 article the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) outlined the number of advantages that blockchain could provide to climate change initiatives. These include peer-to-peer green finance, payment of incentives, tracking greenhouse gas reductions, and documenting and accounting for the capture of carbon in soil sequestration projects.

In January 2018, the UN announced the formation of a blockchain coalition to investigate and develop the new technology to fight climate change. One of the chief goals of the coalition, which now has more than 30 international members, is to make incentive payments technically possible, for example, even for poor farmers in Africa who store carbon in the soil of their small farms.

Big business is getting behind the concept, too. IBM has invested heavily in developing blockchain for the carbon market in China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter. In May 2018, IBM made another large investment in an environmental tech start up, Veridium Labs, that is uses blockchain technology to track and trade carbon credits. Other companies are developing person-to-person carbon trading applications based on blockchain technology. While still in its infancy, blockchain could provide the reliable mechanism to make soil carbon sequestration financially feasible for farmers in a carbon economy.

Other technical applications, too, are being developed to help farmers make regenerative agriculture more profitable and viable:

  • Colorado State University has developed an online tool, called Comet Farm, that lets farmers estimate their carbon footprint and explore ways to bring it down by sequestering more carbon in the ground.
  • A new smart phone app called Pasture Map has been developed this past year based on the Savory Institute’s methods of holistic planned grazing. The app lets farmers plan their grazing movements, monitor their cattle’s growth and outcomes, and get rewarded for sequestering carbon and improving their grasslands. Pasture Map is also building an online map for consumers to find regenerative, climate-friendly ranchers from whom to buy their grass-fed beef.

Take away: Soon, there will be technically proficient ways, like blockchain platforms, for farmers to track and claim carbon credits and manage their herds, empowering farmers and consumers to make high-quality, climate-smart food choices.

5. The hot new trend: Regenerative agriculture

A year ago, only a few had heard of regenerative agriculture; now it is on everybody’s lips! A high-profile Hollywood documentary and advocacy movement, Kiss the Ground, is under way. Its emotional and evocative trailer not only features famous farmers like Gabe Brown and Allan Savory, but celebrities like model Gisele Bündchen.

Author, blogger, and nutritionist Diana Rodgers, of Sustainable Dish, is also working on a full-length feature documentary called Kale vs Cow: The Case For Better Meat. Her crowd-funded film description notes that at a time when many in the health and environmental fields call for a world without meat, her film shows how eliminating animals from our food system would cause more harm than good. “It’s not the cow, it’s the how,” she says. “As a practitioner, I’ve seen many people give up meat, thinking this is the best choice for their health and for the planet, only to see their health decline. But contrary to popular assumptions, well-managed cattle are one of our best chances at improving soil health and sequestering carbon.”

Mainstream media is hopping on board. In the spring of 2018, major features about the growing interest among farmers about doing carbon farming and creating healthy soils ran on National Public Radio and the front cover the of the New York Times Magazine. Top farming journals have been writing about it for a few years. Conferences and training programs are teaching farmers how to do effective and financially feasible regenerative agricultural practices.

Natural food businesses are now jumping on board, too. In 2017, a consortium of more than 200 natural food producers created the Climate Collaborative to work collaboratively “to catalyze bold action, amplify the voice of business and promote sound policy to reverse climate change.” A 2017 study found that 62% of millennials say they are willing to pay more for responsibly produced food.

In March 2018 the world’s largest trade show of natural products, Expo West, had more than 85,000 attendees from around the world. Reports declare that regenerative agriculture was the star of the show. There were seminars for food businesses, including how livestock is essential to the trend as well as a growing list of new products touting their regenerative agriculture roots, including organic grass-fed dairy products, grass-fed beef, and pet treats.

Take away: Regenerative agriculture is the word of the moment. Farmers, food producers, politicians, media and consumers are all getting behind a new trend in food production that can contribute to healthier soils and climate change solutions.

In summary, these five factors signal that regenerative agriculture is coming to the forefront and will not go away. You will be hearing a lot more in the days ahead about the ways agriculture, such as livestock rearing, can help restore grasslands and store carbon. While some sectors may continue to blame meat-eating for poor health and environmental damage, the savvy green keto meat eater will know that the right meat, raised in a regenerative way, is part of a powerful solution to help address climate change and is a nutritious food that helps, rather than harms, our bodies and the planet.

/ Anne Mullens

Earlier parts

The green keto meat eater, part 1

The green keto meat eater, part 2

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