Should meat be on the menu?
… Carbon issues in our food: Paddock to plate

The book in brief (Synopsis)

Should Meat be on the Menu? Book Cover‘Should meat be on the menu?’ explores the widely held view that sheep, cattle and other grazing animals are responsible for an enormous net production of new global warming gases.

It asserts that, on the contrary, livestock are part of a closed atmospheric carbon cycle where the carbon they emit is equal to the carbon they take in. More than that, the book relates how livestock can play a part in reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

Living things which incorporate carbon, and exchange carbon as part of their living processes, are related to a natural carbon cycle which occurs in the atmosphere, not the ground. This is a closed cycle in which it is impossible for a sheep, cow, goat, or any other animal to create any ‘new’ carbon to the cycle.

Non-living carbon consumers – such as power stations burning coal, oil or gas – source their carbon from the ground and emit it to the air. They therefore emit ‘new’ carbon to the atmosphere. The book makes the point that you have to distinguish the carbon emitted by animal from the carbon emitted by fossil burning power stations.

The book addresses the methane issue and reports the work by Professor Mark Adam at Sydney University. He has discovered that certain microbes operating in certain highland soils consume more methane than is ‘emitted’ by a herd of cattle grazing the same ground.

Moving on from these purely defensive points about the neutrality of livestock within the atmospheric carbon cycle, the book introduces the idea that plants and animals, acting together, can be the facilitators of a huge drawdown of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The book then goes on to develop the whole carbon grazing story. It shows how, far from being villains in the global warming debate, farmers and their animals can be the heroes of the environmental movement.

The book points out that the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists has identified carbon grazing as one of the ways to increase terrestrial carbon stocks.

This book is not about global warming per se. It does not discuss whether or not global warming is taking place, or whether the production of new global warming gases is, or is not, the cause of global warming. The focus of this book is purely about whether or not farm livestock – primarily sheep and cattle in Australia – add to, or subtract from, the level of global warming gases in the atmosphere.

The book contains information that every foodie, farmer and environmentalist needs to know about livestock and global warming gases.

Title: Should meat be on the menu?

Sub title: Carbon issues in our food, paddock to plate

ISBN: 9780646531373

Published by: journalist.com.au , David Mason-Jones, Journalist. 15 Valley Road, Denhams Beach, NSW, 2536. Mob: 0411 172 328. Email: david@journalist.com.au

Price: $24.50 plus $5.00 postage and handling in Australia

First published: In Australia in April 2010.

 

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About the author.

At the time of writing David Mason-Jones was the editor of the monthly national rural publication, Small Farms Magazine. He is a freelance journalist with extensive experience writing about business topics in Australia and Asia.

Like many Australians, David was initially influenced by the general public mood that livestock cast a long shadow in terms of their global warming gas emissions. Since researching the matter in more detail, David has completely reversed his opinion. This book contains the conclusions he reached as a result of his study.

Review

BOOK REVIEW:

Published in Agricultural Science (issue 1/12), the journal of the Ag Institute Australia www.aginstitute.com.au

SHOULD MEAT BE ON THE MENU? CARBON ISSUES IN OUR FOOD, PADDOCK TO PLATE.

By David Mason-Jones

Self published 2010. ISBN 978064653173, 256 pages, paperback.

Reviewed by Robert F McKillop, Castlecrag NSW 2068 E: rfmckillop@bigpond.com

David Mason-Jones was the keynote speaker at the Ag Institute Australia NSW Division’s Annual Meeting Dinner at Orange on 21 March 2012. His presentation ‘Villains or Heroes?’ addressed the vilification of farm animals by certain sectors of the community, arguing that properly managed, livestock are definitely part of the solution to finding sustainable farming systems, not part of the problem. It was a well-presented and coherent exploration of the public debate about carbon dioxide, methane, carbon sequestration in the soil and the role of livestock in achieving a positive outcome. Moreover, it was delivered in a refreshing and coherent manner.

The basis for David’s presentation was his 2010 book Should meat be on the menu? which comprises 45 short chapters that explore the issues of the carbon cycle and global warming from various perspectives. A rural journalist, David publishes the Small Farms magazine and approached his subject as a layman who sets out to gain an in-depth understanding of the public debate of climate change in order to separate fact from fiction. He draws on Allan Savory’s holistic management principles derived from the study of grazing animals in African gaming reserves; the reports of the International Panel on Climate Change; Australian research by CSIRO, Professor Mark Adams and his colleagues at the University of Sydney, Christine Jones and others. He reinforces this material with case studies of local farmers who are applying the new principles ‘on the ground’.

The result is a complex argument that tends to jump around, but the core argument is that the production of food is based on the cycle of carbon in the form of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which becomes the ‘building blocks’ of plants, and this organic matter is subsequently ‘digested’ by microbes to return to the atmosphere as methane that breaks down into carbon dioxide and water, thus completing the loop. Mason-Jones distinguishes this from the burning of carbon from non-renewable sources such as coal whereby ancient digested material stored underground for millennia is burnt to produce energy and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. He refers to the desirable natural level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to sustain life as the ambient load and additional levels above this generated by industrial activity and human consumption, as the legacy load. Thus, it is the legacy load of carbon dioxide that needs to be managed, reduced or eliminated to mitigate the threat of climate change.

The remainder of the book focuses on the proposition that, correctly managed, plants can act like pumps that convert carbon into plant material and pump it underground in the form of carbohydrates where it can be stored. Pastures grazed by ruminant animals are the key to the management of plants to sequester carbon in the soil. In some quarters, however, ruminant animals have received ‘bad press’, notably over the higher potency of methane than carbon dioxide in warming the atmosphere, so Mason-Jones goes to some lengths to dispel myths in the area.

His core argument is that cattle are part of the closed-loop atmospheric carbon dioxide cycle so the atoms emitted are equal to those taken in by the animal. The methane returned to the atmosphere by ruminants converts back to carbon molecules and water. Moreover the microbes in the rumen that generate methane are the same as those that do so in other natural settings, notably tropical forests and wetlands. From recent research, it is also emerging that methanotropic bacteria in the soil can result in well-managed areas of pasture absorbing methane into the soil at a greater rate than is generated by ruminant animals grazing that pasture.

This book is written for the general public. To this reviewer, however, David Mason-Jones’ presentation offers insight in the context of the difficulties scientists have faced in getting their message across to a sceptical public on issues such as climate change and the role of grazing animals in sustainable farming systems. As a journalist, the author’s skills in presenting complex issues in clear and readily understood prose stand out.

In one important aspect, however, this book raised a couple of concerns. While David has clearly drawn on the reports of eminent scientists in the field and acknowledged them, the absence of referencing his sources makes it difficult for the reader to judge when the arguments are based on peer-based scientific research, or from sources that express personal opinions and conjecture.

As a self-published book, Should meat be on the menu? also exhibits some of the pitfalls of this genre. Overall, it would have benefited from the input of an experienced editor to tighten up the structure and meandering of the text. Secondly, marketing of the product has been restricted by its self-publishing status.

These criticisms aside, Should meat be on the menu? is an important contribution to the public debate on core issues that confront Australian (and global) agriculture. It deserves a wider audience and, YES, grass-fed meat should be on the table if we are to develop sustainable farming systems for the Australian context.

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Feedback/Testimonials

Top Customer Reviews from Amazon

4.0 out of 5 starsThought provoking

By Mark

I was recommended this book by a friend and didn’t know what to expect. It’s a well argued and interesting book about farming animals and the contribution they really make to climate change. The author takes aim at people who think they can save the planet by not eating meat and shows that they’re focussing on the wrong things. He argues that livestock form a natural part of carbon recycling and are essentially carbon-neutral. Interesting take on the subject.

4.0 out of 5 starsSave the planet by eating meat

By Lachlan Hardy

I read ‘Eating Animals’ last year and felt pretty bad about eating meat. Now, I’ve read this book which says that eating animals isn’t bad for the environment. It’s about farming and global warming and how farmers could be the best allies of environmentalists. I liked it, but it’s caused a few arguments in my house!

 

From Conference attendee

When I was at the Fields of Farmers / Salatin event in Canberra early this year a flyer about this book was put in my hand. I didn’t take a lot of notice at the time and when I looked later I imagined it was another book about all the reasons why eating meat is good for our health, and put it on the reading list.

Well the book has made its way to the top of my list and I have to admit that I was mistaken about the content of Should Meat be on the Menu? It’s not about why we should eat meat so much as why our farms should be growing the animals we use for meat. It’s about the health of the land and carbon sequestering, and the resulting increased farm yields and income. Love it!

The author challenges many of the long held views about what we should do about carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the book will make you think. Just today I saw a picture on the Food Inc Facebook page about the methane cows belch into the atmosphere, and I thought to myself that made a nice picture and a catchy line, but is it true? Should Meat be on the Menu asserts that the methane produced by farm animals is not a problem because they are simply taking the gases out of the atmosphere, their bodies do their thing and the gases go back out into the atmosphere, there is not net gain or loss, no methane or carbon dioxide magically invented by the cows to cause climate change. Are you curious?

Mason-Jones has some ideas in common with Allan Savory, you may have watched his TED talk. He also discusses some farming practises that sound very much like what is happening at Polyface Farm. This book is well worth your time to read if you are at all interested in climate change, sustainable food production or making more money out of farming.

The author looks in general at the benefits of certain farming practises to the health and productivity of the land, and also looks at some specific instances, around Australia, where these practices are being used. He challenges the idea that planting lots of trees will make a big difference to global carbon dioxide levels, and also the idea that before the English arrived here Australia was covered mainly by trees. He looks at the difference between the farming methods he suggests and traditional methods involving, for example, ploughing and fertilising and planting annual crops.

5.0 out of 5 starsShould Meat be on the Menu – from Sceptic to Confirmed Carnivore

By A Satisfied Customer

As a person who has, for many, many years, in fact, before it became fashionable, been concerned about the possibility of a human-induced ecological collapse, I read this book with considerable interest. I must admit to being a sceptic when I started and converted to David’s point of view when I had finished.

All of what David Mason-Jones posits is rooted in science and makes sense. I find it astounding no one else has, before him, questioned the mantra of vegans who would have us eating only fruit, beans, grain and nuts.

I found this book interesting, informative and lucid in its arguments. There was little I could really take issue with. Definitely a good read for anyone interested in the subject of the effect humans are having on the biosphere upon which they are so dependent for their long-term survival.

5.0 out of 5 starsShould meat be on the menu

By Lindsay

This book is a useful polemic. It explains in simple terms the idea that livestock production is carbon neutral as such and rebuts the popular notion that it adds significant Co2 and methane to the atmosphere.

This is a logic which is explained by Mason-Jones and I found interesting and agree with his points. There some issues which I may differ in such as stocking strategies because the topic is not a one size fits all.

Grazing tropical Savanna in northern Australia requires different treatment to the Table lands of New South Wales which enjoys a more European climate, However the principals the author espouses are well proportioned and I hope the academic folk take more notice of what is said. This book is a useful contribution in the discussion of CO2 emissions.

 

5.0 out of 5 starsanother side to the arguement

By Richard V

I was most impressed with the perspective of this book. The media to often follows big business and government to afraid of voter backlash to address issues of global warming. Maybe farming techniques do have something to offer in carbon sequestration with a positive cost benefit to boot. It is not going to be our saviour and David does not propose this but it certainly seems to be of considerable interest. Maybe the education department should look at this book as a way of introducing our next generation to some insights?

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