Digest – News & Features: Grass-fed emits more CO2 than grain-, wheat threatened, Grandin creates certification

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Grass-fed meat still linked to climate change: Grass-fed cattle have a higher carbon footprint than grain-fed, says Nathan Pelletier of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. Yes, you read that right. He says it has to do with “higher volumes of feed throughput and associated methane and nitrous-oxide [GHG] emissions.” (We think this means the cattle need more grass and more time to get fat on it than they do grain, so they live longer and fart more methane.) He added that most pastures were highly managed, and subject to “periodic renovations and also fertilization.” The article doesn’t say whether the carbon footprint of grain-fed cattle takes into account the carbon footprint of the fertilizer-intense grain used to feed it. (Science News)

No stemming stem rust: A scary new version of stem rust, a deadly fungus, is laying waste to Kenya’s wheat fields and beyond, threatening one of the world’s principal food crops. Crop scientists say they are powerless to stop its spread and increasingly frustrated in their efforts to find resistant plants. (Washington Post)

Grandin idea: Temple Grandin, animal handling expert and most famous person with Asberger’s syndrome, has created the “Dr. Temple Grandin Certified, Sustainable & Humane” program, a 21-principle certification in conjunction with Niman Ranch. Niman Ranch (and presumably its new owners) get first dibs, but any processor “who believes in not only proper animal husbandry practices but also in following sustainable agriculture methods” can get certified too. We’re not sure why a “100% vegetarian diet,” regardless of species (pigs and chickens are omnivores), is among the 21 principles, but the other examples look great. (National Provisioner)

Things that really, really, piss us off: Giganto agribusiness multinational Cargill has donated $1 million to the Global FoodBanking Network, supposedly in response to rising food prices and the worldwide economic crisis. How nice! How altruistic! The GFN says it will use it and another $5M Cargill donated previously to feed children in Argentina, Colombia, India and South Africa — wait for it! — “to buy food in those four countries from Cargill and other suppliers.” OK, so Cargill gets a tax writeoff, plus customers it wouldn’t otherwise have, and food producers in those countries get screwed. Wow, altruism and capitalism really do mix! (Chicago Tribune)

USDA gets star visit: Making the rounds of government agencies, Michelle Obama stopped in at the USDA, where she praised the department for planting gardens at its offices nationwide. (Read her remarks.) The Caucus Blog reports that the garden at the USDA’s headquarters “will include fruits and vegetables to be donated to the city’s soup kitchens” — good news that wasn’t in the press release.

Farmers less monocultural: More women and more minorities are getting into farming, this article crows. The fine print: the shift is partly because America’s aging farmers are dying and their surviving spouses are keeping growing, and because USDA officials acknowledge trying harder to track down smaller, immigrant-run farms for the 2007 count. (San Jose Mercury News; thanks Diana). But are they trying too hard? (Gristmill)

Pork producer trimming jobs: Smithfield is closing six pork plants and taking other actions to save money. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Don’t litter: The E. coli 0111 that sickened 300 and killed one in Oklahoma last August likely came from poultry poop. CAFOs operating within a quarter-mile of the restaurant where the outbreak took place generate an estimated 7,000 tons of “litter” annually, much of which is spread on nearby land and may have seeped into the restaurant’s well. Oklahoma’s Attorney General is pursuing a case against the region’s poultry companies for polluting the watershed. (Tulsa World)

Slaughterhouse workers get class: A federal judge has allowed a suit against Tyson to proceed as a class action. The workers think they should be paid for things like, oh, cleaning equipment. (Kansas City Star)

Seed saving supreme: The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service has moved seed samples of 20,000 plant varieties to safekeeping in a specially constructed facility in Norway, also known as the Doomsday Vault. (ARS)

Cattle producers be-mooon image: Kansas Cattlemen’s Association convention-goers consider bad press and animal rights. (Salina Journal)

Wonder what they’ll do next?: Interstate Bakeries, the KC-based maker of that all-American squishy bread, Wonder, fresh from bankruptcy, is pulling up stakes and moving its HQ from Kansas City to Dallas (Kansas City Star), having just introduced a line without artificial preservatives or flavors, transfats or high-fructose corn syrup. (AP)

Composting goes uptown… and downtown and all around the town as New Yorkers get the composting bug. Or rather, the composting worm. (New York Times)

It ain’t pretty being piggy: Anna Lappé interviews Brighter Green researcher Mia MacDonald on China’s growing appetite for U.S.-style meat production (Gristmill)

Food politics 101: Ethicurean editor Bonnie Azab Powell chats to a green living-and-business radio host about what SOLE is all about, plus little side trips into foie gras and veal. (LifeTips)

6 Responsesto “Digest – News & Features: Grass-fed emits more CO2 than grain-, wheat threatened, Grandin creates certification”

  1. Brad Johnson says:

    The story about grass-fed cattle emitting more greenhouse emissions is based on a talk by ” Ulf Sonesson of the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology“. The Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology (also known as SIK, which is a subsidiary of SP, the Swedish government-corporate research group.

  2. JB says:

    Below is the statement issued by Dr. Grandin refuting and clarifying the release from Niman referenced in the National Provisioner.  Obviously, the Niman release was not approved by Dr. Grandin and grossly distorts her involvement.

    Temple Grandin clarification on Niman Ranch certification program


    By Janie Gabbett on 2/16/2009



    Niman Ranch issued a news release last week on a new certification program. (See Temple Grandin launches new sustainable and humane certification on Meatingplace.com, Feb. 11, 2009.)

    Over the weekend, Temple Grandin issued the full statement below. On Sunday she spoke with Meatingplace and issued the following summary statement to further clarify her involvement with the Niman Ranch program.

    Summary statement from Temple Grandin

    There has been considerable confusion generated by the original Niman Ranch press release dated Feb. 11, 2009. The program is an existing Niman Ranch program and I am working with them to make their standards clearer and easier to audit. My seal of approval is verification that they adhere to Niman Ranch standards and have a rigorous auditing program. Niman Ranch has more work to do and they are planning to have their auditing system in place by the summer. Other companies can also develop a program and seek my approval. The standards for each company are specific to each company, but they must have a high level of animal welfare that can be verified by audits.

    Full Statement from Temple Grandin

    The meat industry has evolved into two major sectors of conventional and niche/natural/organic. I work with both sectors to develop guidelines that are clear and that can be easily audited. It is important to eliminate vague wording such as adequate or sufficient unless these words are defined. In the slaughter plant, the standards for both sectors can be the same. Both the conventional and the niche/natural/organic sectors use the AMI guidelines. On the farm, standards will have more differences both between and within each sector.

    I have worked with Niman Ranch to clarify their EXISTING guidelines so they would be clearer and less prone to different interpretations. The 21 Core principles on the Niman Ranch press release dated February 11, 2009 are a rewritten clearer version of the basic guidelines for the Niman Ranch pork and beef programs that has been in existence for many years. The only added statements are on sustainable agriculture which are basic good agricultural practices for both sectors of the industry.

    I have worked with many companies, both conventional and niche/natural/organic to define the terms in their guidelines more clearly. My approval of Niman Ranch guidelines was from an auditing standpoint – and not my personal opinion standpoint.

    The next step for Niman Ranch is clarifying and revising their specific guidelines for each species and setting up a system of internal and independent third party audits.

    My personal opinion on housing for pigs is much more moderate. I personally approve of farrowing stalls and I think it is very positive that industry is evaluating alternative sow housing and that some producers have already converted to group housing. It would not be practical to house all pigs outside and most conventional pigs will still be housed indoors in the same buildings that now exist. However, there is a legitimate place in the U.S. industry for different niche/natural/organic sectors which will raise pigs outside or on straw.

    My personal views on the use of antibiotics and growth promotants are also much more moderate, but some niche markets will prohibit them. One of my biggest concerns is the overuse of either growth promotants or genetic selection that overload the biological system. Overloading the animal’s biological system can cause weak, stressed, or lame animals that are difficult to handle humanely.

    I work with both sectors. I will work as a consultant with both sectors to help them state their guidelines clearly and implement effective auditing programs. This is important so that the consumers of both conventional or niche/natural/organic products will get the products that are stated on their label.

    My approval of Niman Ranch is for the clarity of their standards, not the content of their specific niche/natural standards. With every company I work with, both conventional or niche/natural/organic, there are basic welfare core criteria that must be in the specific guidelines for each species. Animals must be evaluated for body condition score, injuries, lameness, and cleanliness. The program must also have objective scoring for handling. All companies I have consulted with use the AMI guidelines. In programs that prohibit antibiotics or other pharmaceuticals, failure to treat sick animals should be grounds for delisting a farm.

    Questions about the label

    There have also been many questions about the Temple Grandin approved label. This label would certify that a company has a credible auditing program and that they actually are complying with their own standards. Before the label can actually be used, Niman’s auditing system must be in place. The following steps will need to be implemented:

    Rewrite existing guidelines for Niman pork and beef so they are clearer and more auditable. Audit forms must also be created.
    Develop a formal auditing system. A good auditing system has three components. They are: internal audits of all farms, audits by Niman corporate personnel and independent third party audits. The internal audits would be conducted by existing Niman field staff who would visit every farm or ranch every 30 days. The corporate and third party audits would be conducted annually with a random sampling of the producers. Producers with problems would also be visited.
    In addition to Niman guidelines, both pork and beef producers must also comply with NCBA and Pork Board Quality Assurance and animal welfare guidelines. Truckers transporting Niman livestock would have to take the trucker training course.
    All auditors both internal and third party will need to be trained to use the rewritten standards to audit pork and beef producers.
    Farms and ranches must also comply with national, state, and local environmental regulations.




  3. I am surprised at Temple Grandin’s statement that pigs can’t be on pasture without destroying the land. We do intensive rotational grazing of our pigs, right along side our chickens, ducks and sheep. They work great on pasture and they do not destroy the land. Rather the pasture has improved year after year. Given that we have about 200 pigs I think I have a bit of experience with this.

    I’m also surprised at the 100% vegetarian diet. Pigs do great on dairy. It’s a traditional use of the whey from making butter and cheese and an excellent diet for pigs. The USDA Naturally Raise originally appeared to exclude pigs from eating dairy but the revised standards specifically allow for pigs to eat dairy.

    As to chickens, they eat meat. They love to eat meat. Meat is a natural part of their diet. In the warm months I don’t have to feed our ~100 chickens because they forage for their food eating primarily insects. That’s their job on our farm. In fact I just did a post on that at:


    This is just one more standards system. There are already so many out there. I’ve been repeatedly implored to join the various standards organizations. We’re part of Certified Naturally Grown. That’s enough. It covers everything and is more reasonable than the other standards programs I’ve seen. It allows pigs and chickens to eat dairy for one thing. I don’t see the need for one more standards certification. My meat label is already crowded enough as it is between the product name, the claims we need to make and the mandatory information. There is just so much space on a package. I greatly admire the work done by Temple Grandin but don’t need one more standard.



  4. JB says:

    Walter – The satements in the Provisioner article are not necessarily Temple Grandin’s beliefs.  Her involvement is distorted and misrepresented in that article.  The protocols are the requirements of a Niman Ranch program.  Temple has been retained to verify that Niman adheres to their own standards.  She is not endoring their program or stating that she agrees with their standards.  In the statement that she released that I placed in a previous post, Temple states “ My approval of Niman Ranch is for the clarity of their standards, not the content of their specific niche/natural standards”.

  5. Good to hear, JB. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Temple Grandin. My wife and I have both read many of her books, for different and the same reasons. I was interested to see the note from her on the phone.

  6. A Avery says:

    Just to clarify: The Swedish research that found higher overall GHG emissions with grass-fed beef DOES include emissions from growing the feed corn/grains. Many people have a hard time reconciling this reality but it all comes down to methane, which the UN IPCC considers 23 TIMES as powerful a GHG than CO2. So while yes, growing feed corn results in sizeable CO2 emissions from fertilizer production, pesticide production, field operations, and feed transport, these are MORE THAN offset by the roughly two-times more methane produced by grass-fed cattle by the time they reach market weight. Why 2X methane? Because of the unavoidable fact that rumen bacteria will create a boat-load more methane when breaking down resistant cellulose (grass) than starch (corn).  Also, the methane is mostly burped out, not the other end!

    Even the IPCC report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, acknowledges this, though not very openly because (I suspect) of the politics. Here are two little-known quotes from the LLS report: 

    –“. . . by far the largest share of emissions come from more extensive systems.” [i.e. organic grass-fed systems]
    –“The most promising approach for reducing methane emissions from livestock is by improving [the productivity and efficiency] of livestock production. . . . The basic principle is to increase the digestibility of feedstuff.”