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Writing Ruminations

Writing is such an internal process. Why not make those private ruminations public? This is how stories take shape and grow.

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Location: Happy Valley, Oregon, United States

I've been supporting myself as a writer for many years and am watching the changes in the publishing world with fascination. For me, sharing the craft, teaching, is as creatively satisfying as the writing process itself.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Meat Miles Oversimplification in Science News

In the latest issue of Science News (May 24,2008) I turned to an article in their ‘Environment’ section on the global warming impact of food purchases. Their position was that in terms of meat, buying local has little importance, that only 4% of the carbon emissions come from transport and 86% come from fertilizers used to raise feet, methane and nitrous oxide from rumination and manure decomposition. I find most articles in Science News to be well researched and balanced, but the oversimplification of this particular piece disturbed me quite a bit.

As a major proponent of the eat local and grow sustainably movement, this quick dismissal of local meat particularly worries me. Yes, their suggestion that everybody should eat less red meat is a good one for many reasons. But it also suggests that there’s no particular benefit to buying from a local meat producer and that there’s no particular difference between a cow or lamb raised locally and one feedlotted in another state.

BUT…all is NOT equal here. The carbon footprint of an Angus steer raised to slaughter in a crowded feedlot, fed on corn that has been raised using a lot of fertilizer and tractor power is one thing. Certainly the manure pits from large scale dairy and feedlot facilities are a major producer of nitrous oxide among other things. BUT…what about the small livestock producer who raises a few steers on pasture, where the manure is scattered on the pasture by the animals and broken down more quickly and with a different biochemical environment than you see in a concrete manure bunker? They are grass fed only and the pasture has received minimal if any fertilizer application and minimal if any diesel equipment work.

The local pasture raised meat industry is small and new. I would hate to see it get lumped in with large feedlot practices in terms of carbon footprint. If consumers feel that it makes no difference whether that meat comes from a local pasture or a feed lot in Nebraska, the local farmers who lack the economies of scale are going to suffer. Think it about it folks! All meat is not equal, even if the personal contentment of the animals isn’t important to you!

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