I was delightfully surprised to find this article on nutrition. The surprise came because it comes from an MIT Economist named Otto Scharmer. Those familiar with the discipline of systems thinking might recognize his name from the book titled “Theory U”.
What was surprising was to see Dr. Scharmer’s background and links to the emerging issues of nutrition, soil quality and our agricultural production system. While I don’t agree with everything he says about livestock impact, he does clarify the growing scope of the nutrition issue, including its affordability, as well as agriculture’s impact on our health and the climate. He points out that the costs of a conventional apple, in terms of damage to health and environment from the pesticides used, are extremely high. If, when buying the fruit, we paid the cost of cleaning up the water polluted by conventional agriculture’s pesticides, non-organic produce would cost double what it does.
I should clarify why I am not supportive of Dr. Scharmer’s statements regarding livestock. From our perspective, agricultural systems that are the most productive in terms of carbon sequestration involve perennial polycultures, or in other words, numerous species of trees, shrubs, grasses, etc, planted together, with livestock grazing among them. (The photo in the article shows a conventional ag system with dozens of cows standing or lying on bare ground, the opposite of a regenerative system, where the cattle enjoy lush meadows.) Livestock are by far the most economical way to use these perennial polyculture systems, convert sunlight into food, and sequester the most carbon. When these systems make use of a full, holistic lifecycle assessment, the picture regarding livestock impact can change dramatically.