When I started doing research on regenerative grazing on the internet I was surprised to see “regenerative grazing debunked” come up as a suggested topic. I thought why is this even controversial? It turns out some of the arguments in favor of it are controversial, especially how much carbon dioxide can soil building through better grazing practices take out of the atmosphere? And is that enough to offset the emissions of cattle? Opponents feel the benefits are exaggerated and dismiss this as a way to “greenwash” the meat industry. I agree the numbers are controversial, but regenerative grazing is still a very beneficial practice, as is regenerative raising of crops, or a combination of the two, as practiced on Gabe Brown’s farm. This is a major reason I think a compromise between wfpb and paleo diet advocates is important. I’ve seen arguments from wfpb supporters “debunking” regenerative grazing, and arguments from the other side “debunking” regenerative crop raising. In both cases what is really being “debunked” is an exaggerated “straw man” position. In truth, both sides should unite in supporting regenerative agriculture of plants and animals, and in opposing conventional agribusiness of commodity crops and factory farming of animals.
The concern about regenerative grazing being used for “greenwashing” of meat has some validity, though. An example is an announcement last September by some of the big players in the food business (McDonald’s, Walmart, and Cargill), of a “major regenerative initiative“. They have donate $6 million to the World Wildlife federation to promote better grazing practices on cattle ranches. And McDonald’s and Cargill will spend a further $8.5 million on better practices on farms that produce the grain for cattle that will reduce emissions. This is a small step in the right direction, but it is just making conventional agribusiness slightly less harmful. The conventional model is that cattle are raised on ranches until shortly after they are weaned, then shipped off to feedlots to be “grain-finished”. This regenerative initiative follows this model but makes it somewhat more environmentally friendly. It is still a far cry from something like Gabe Brown’s operation, which I consider truly regenerative. The major concern is that by spending a tiny amount of their profits (probably out of their public relations budgets) on this type of initiative, these companies can make people feel less guilty about eating beef and less likely to cut back on it.
For a balanced view of how regenerative agriculture and grazing benefit the soil, and help with climate change, see this article and this video. There are also good articles about this at the Sustainable Food Trust’s website. Also, I recently read the interesting book Drawdown about the science behind various changes in energy use, transportation, farming, etc. that will help with climate change, and that book definitely emphasizes regenerative agriculture (both crop growing and grazing) as powerful approaches. There is also a description of some of these practices on the accompanying website.