Factory Farm Meat: Why Vegetarians, Ranchers and Conscious Omnivores Need to Unite

For the first time since the advent of industrial agriculture, the federal government is considering advising Americans to eat “less red and processed meat.”

That advice is the outcome of studies conducted by an independent panel of “experts” which was asked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for recommended changes to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

The February 19 “eat less red and processed meat” pronouncement by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) was reported widely in mainstream media. It set off a heated debate about whether or not consumers should eat meat, a debate that included the standard name-calling by factory farm front groups, including the Farm Bureau, denouncing consumers and environmentalists (and their alleged pawns on the DGAC) for being “anti-meat” and “anti-farmer.”

Unfortunately in its recommendations, the DGAC didn’t really come out and tell us the whole truth, which would go something like this: “Americans should eat less, or rather no red and processed meat from filthy, inhumane factory farms or feedlots, where the animals are cruelly crammed together and routinely fed a diet of herbicide-drenched, genetically engineered grains, supplemented by a witch’s brew of antibiotics, artificial hormones, steroids, blood, manure and slaughterhouse waste, contributing to a deadly public health epidemic of obesity, heart disease, cancer, antibiotic resistance, hormone disruption and food allergies.”

If the DGAC had really told us the truth about America’s red meat horror show (95 percent of our red meat comes from these Confined Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs), we’d be having a conversation about how we can get rid of factory farms, instead of a rather abstract debate on the ethics of eating meat.

With a real debate we could conceivably start to change the self-destructive purchasing and eating habits (the average American carnivore consumes nine ounces or more of toxic CAFO meat and animal products daily) of most Americans. Instead we are having a slightly more high-volume replay of the same old debate, whereby vegetarians and vegans, constituting approximately 5 percent of the population, tell the other 95 percent, who are omnivores, to stop eating meat. Nothing much ever comes of that particular debate, which leaves thousands of hard-working, conscientious ranchers, and millions of health-, environment- and humane-minded omnivores, out of the conversation.

I say thousands of “hard-working, conscientious,” ranchers are being left out of the conversation because I know lots of them.

North American cattle ranchers, for the most part, have no love for Cargill, Tyson, Monsanto, JBS, Smithfield, Elanco (animal drugs) or McDonald’s. Most of these ranchers practice traditional animal husbandry, conscientiously taking care of their animals from birth. They graze their cattle free-range on grass, as nature intended, before they’re forced to sell these heretofore-healthy animals at rock-bottom prices to the monopolistic meat cartel.

Before these hapless creatures are dragged away to hell, to be fattened up on GMO grains and drugged up in America’s CAFOs, their meat is high in beneficial Omega 3 and conjugated linoleic acids (LA), and low in “bad” fats.

Unfortunately by the time their abused and contaminated carcasses arrive, all neatly packaged, at your local supermarket, restaurant or school cafeteria, the meat is low in Omega 3 and good “fats,” and routinely tainted by harmful bacteria, not to mention pesticide, steroid and antibiotic residues. What was once a healthy food has now become a literal poison that clogs up your veins, makes you fat, and heightens your risk of heart attack or cancer.

I mention millions of “health-, environment-, and humane-minded” consumers being left out of the “meat versus no meat” conversation because, as director of the two million-strong, Organic Consumers Association, I talk and exchange emails with conscious consumers every day.

No organic consumer, vegetarian or omnivore I’ve ever encountered consciously supports the cruelty of intensive confinement for farm animals. Nor do they support feeding herbivores genetically engineered, herbicide-drenched grains, mixed with slaughterhouse waste. No one supports dosing factory farmed animals with antibiotics and hormones that then end up in your kid’s hamburger at school (unless it’s organic or 100-percent grass-fed.)

No one in their right mind, or at least no one who has ever experienced a factory farm first-hand or even read a book or watched a video about what’s going on, supports CAFOs. That’s why corporate agribusiness is working overtime to pass state “Ag Gag” laws making it a crime to take photos of CAFOs. That’s why the beef cartel and Big Food spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to keep you in the dark about CAFOs, about whether or not your food contains genetically engineered ingredients, and about the country-of-origin of your food.

If CAFO meat and animal products had to be labeled (a proposition I support wholeheartedly), the entire factory farm industry would collapse. If CAFO meat had to be labeled, not only in grocery stores but also in restaurants,

McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and the rest would immediately be on the phone, contacting ranchers directly to buy their grass-fed, healthy, free- range beef.

Before we go any further, let’s identify the real culprits in this CAFO horror show.

Four multi-billion dollar transnational companies—Tyson JBS, Cargill and Smithfield—produce about 85 percent of the factory farm meat in the U.S., making it difficult for ranchers to sell their livestock to anyone but the Big Four. And of course these same Big Four companies, along with their front groups such as the North American Meat Institute, are lobbying the government to ditch the 2015 dietary guidelines to “eat less red and processed meat” recommendation because they understand what that recommendation will do to their bottom lines.

But what the Big Four fear even more is the thought of consumers waking up to the horrors of factory farms, and the filthy, contaminated meat that comes out of these animal prisons.

Fortunately, demand for healthier, sustainably raised grass-fed beef is growing rapidly. Here in Minneapolis-St. Paul where I spend a good part of the year, there are now over 100 restaurants that offer grass-fed beef on their menus. Local co-ops and natural food grocery stores are barely able to keep up with the increasing consumer demand.

But unfortunately 95 percent of beef today still comes from factory farms and feedlots. Meanwhile most of the 100-percent grass-fed meat sold at restaurants such as Chipotle or Carl’s Jr. (a popular chain on the West Coast) is imported from Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay and Argentina, rather than produced here in the US. Why? It’s not because consumers don’t want healthier, more humanely raised 100-percent grass fed beef. It’s because Cargill and Big Food have monopolized the market by brainwashing the public into believing that cheap CAFO meat is OK, while controlling nearly all of the meat processing plants in the country.

The time has come to shift the American diet away from unhealthy, inhumane, GMO factory farmed food. But as Kendra Kimbirauskas of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project (SRAP) pointed out at her TEDx talk in New York City recently, we, conscious consumers and farmers, “need to get on common ground” and stop “in-fighting over whether to eat ethical meat, go meat-free, or advocate for bigger cages…” As Kimbirauskas emphasizes, we need to enlist environmentalists in our anti-CAFO campaigning as well.

“As long as animals are in factory farms, they are polluting our environment”… And, Kimbirauskas added, “Those most impacted by the problem (farmers and rural people adjacent to CAFOs) need to be most visible in the fight to change It.”

Meat (along with eggs and dairy products) from factory farms is literally killing people with diet-related diseases. Factory farms are a disaster, not only for the animals, but also for the communities where manure and chemical fertilizers and pesticides pollute the air, the soil, streams, lakes, rivers and drinking water.

Factory farms and the GMO farms that supply them with animal feed are a disaster for the climate as well, releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases, including CO2, methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. The grasslands that support grass-fed beef, on the other hand, if grazed properly, sequester CO2 from the air and put it in the soil, while drastically reducing or eliminating altogether methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

It’s time to stop fighting among ourselves about whether or not to eat meat. Americans need to boycott all factory farmed meat and animal products. Period.

Beyond boycotting CAFO products, if consumers care about their health and the health of the planet, we need to reduce our consumption of sustainable grass-fed animal products to approximately three or four ounces a day (not nine ounces a day, the current average).

We are what we eat. We must get rid of factory farms and put the Earth’s billions of confined farm animals back outside on the land, grazing and foraging, where they belong.

***

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico-based affiliate, Via Organica.

A pilgrimage towards a nonviolent relationship with soil

I have just returned from a soil pilgrimage undertaken to celebrate the International Year of Soil and renew our commitment to a non-violent relationship with the earth, the soil and our society. On October 2, we started the pilgrimage from Bapu Kutir at Sevagram Ashram, Maharashtra. My fellow pilgrims were those who have contributed over half-a-century of their lives to build the organic movement — Andre Leu, president of International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM), Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) of the United States, and Will Allen, a professor and long-time organic farmer.

At Mahatma Gandhi’s hut, we took a pledge to stop the violence to the soil through chemical fertilisers and poisons and promote organic farming as ahimsa kheti. We dedicated ourselves to a transition from a violent, chemical, industrial agriculture that is destroying soil fertility and trapping farmers in debt through high-cost seeds and chemicals.

Vidarbha, for example, has emerged as the epicentre of debt-induced farmers’ suicides. It is also the region with the highest acreage of genetically modified organism (GMO) Bt cotton. Fields of non-Bt, native cotton — which is totally pest and weed-free — gives more yields than Bt cotton.

The Bt fields are being doused in pesticides because of pest outbreaks, since Bt is failing as a tool to control pests. Bt cotton fields are also being sprayed with Monsanto’s Roundup, a known carcinogen to control weeds.

There is no regulation of the poisons being used. Most of the GMO cotton seed is being blended and labelled for sale as vegetable oil. We are being fed GMO cotton seed oil, even though GMOs are not allowed in food in India. And while toxic oils spread without regulation, the new food safety rules have shut down the ghani (virgin oil press) that sold healthy and safe oils like flax, groundnut, sesame and mustard.

The oilcake is being fed to our cows. Those who kill others in the name of cow protection are silent on the fight against the toxic giants who are poisoning our “gau mata”.

The pilgrimage concluded at the Agriculture College, Indore, which started as Albert Howard’s institute on organic farming that contributed to the famous Indore process of composting.

Mahatma Gandhi came to know of the Indore process when he visited London to attend the Round Table Conference. Gandhi and Howard have shown that we can have a peaceful and respectful relationship with the soil and with each other.

Howard was sent to India in 1905 by the British Empire to introduce chemical farming. When he arrived, he found the soils were fertile and there were no pests in the fields. He decided to make the Indian peasant his professor and wrote the book An Agricultural Testament, known as the bible of organic farming.

Organic farming is the original example of “Make in India”. Howard’s book helped spread the organic movement to the US through the Rodale Institute and to the UK through the Soil Association, finding its way to far corners of the world.

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The soil pilgrimage was our expression of gratitude to sources of organic farming in India — our fertile and generous land and Mother Earth that have sustained us for millennia.

Ecological and regenerative agriculture is based on recycling organic matter, and hence recycling nutrients. It is based on the Law of Return — giving nutrients back to the soil. As Howard wrote in The Soil and Health: “Taking without giving is a robbery of the soil and a banditry; a particularly mean form of banditry, because it involves the robbing of future generations which are not here to defend themselves.”

In taking care of the soil, we also produce more food on less land. Fertile soils are the sustainable answer to food and nutrition security. Organic agriculture is the only real answer to climate change.

The air pollution that has built up in the atmosphere is roughly 400 parts per million (ppm) carbon dioxide today. This is the reason for the greenhouse effect and climate chaos, including temperature rise. To cap the rise of temperature at two degrees centigrade, we need to reduce the carbon build up in the air to 350 ppm.

There is a need to reduce emissions and phase out fossil fuels, but it also requires reducing the stocks of excess carbon from the atmosphere and putting it back into the soil where it belongs. Here, organic, regenerative agriculture offers us the way out.

In the process, it also addresses food insecurity and hunger, reverses desertification, creates livelihood security by creating ecological security, and, therefore, creates the path to peace.

Above all, it allows a transition from the violent paradigm, structures and systems of capitalist patriarchy to the non-violent paradigm, structures and systems based on ahimsa, which include the well being of all.

Organic farming is the answer to drought and climate change. It is also a peace solution. If we do not respect the soil and our cultural diversity and if we do not collectively recommit ourselves to ahimsa, we can rapidly disintegrate as a civilisation.

For me, organic agriculture is the dharma that sows the seeds of peace and prosperity for all. It helps us break out of the vicious cycle of violence and degeneration, and create virtuous cycles based on non-violence and regeneration.

Just as humus in soil binds soil particles and prevents soil erosion, it also binds the society and prevents violence and social disintegration. Since humus provides food, livelihood, water and climate security, it also contributes to peace. Just as wet straw cannot be put on fire by a matchstick, communities that are secure cannot be put on fire by violent elements feeding on insecurity created by an economic model that is killing swadeshi and is only designed for global economic powers to extract what they want.

In taking care of the soil, we reclaim our humanity. Our future is inseparable from the future of the earth. It is no accident that the word human has its roots in humus — soil in Latin. And Adam, the first human in Abrahamanic traditions, is derived from Adamus, soil in Hebrew.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves.” We must never forget that ahimsa must be the basis of our relationship with the earth and each other.

The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust.

Meet John D. Liu, the Indiana Jones of Landscape Restoration

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He’s known to some as the “Indiana Jones” of landscape degradation and restoration.

John D. Liu, ecosystem restoration researcher, educator and filmmaker, has dedicated his life to sharing real-world examples of once-degraded landscapes newly restored to their original fertile and biodiverse beauty. Liu is director of the Environmental Education Media Project (EEMP), ecosystem ambassador for the Commonland Foundation and a visiting research fellow at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

We recently sat down with Liu, the newest member of the Regeneration International (RI) Steering Committee. In this interview, Liu walks us through large-scale ecosystem restoration projects in China and Rwanda. We learn that when humans work with nature, degraded landscapes can be restored in a matter of years, and economies can be regenerated, putting food security and climate change mitigation within our reach.

In order to survive as a species, Liu explains, humanity must shift from commodifying nature to ‘naturalizing’ our economy.

Interview with John D. Liu, February 4, 2016

RI: What is the significance of the Paris Agreement, reached at the COP21 Climate Summit in December (2015), for the pioneers, such as yourself, of the landscape restoration movement?

Liu: There is now recognition of soil carbon, which was not the case in the past. The best and perhaps only way for humanity to massively affect carbon disequilibrium in the atmosphere is to restore natural ecological function of soils through the restoration of biomass, biodiversity and accumulated organic matter.

One of the things that I have been learning about, and that has most impressed me, is the difference between natural systems, which have huge organic layers, and human systems, which are massively degraded and actually have lost their organic material.

In Paris, we’ve started to turn the corner. Instead of just talking about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we’re now seeing [climate change] spoken about as a holistic problem. When you see it holistically, you find out that CO2 and GHG emissions are a symptom of systematic dysfunction on a planetary scale… Human impact on the climate is not simply emissions; it is degradation.

There is a way forward. That is why I am so excited about the early work I did in the Loess Plateau and in Ethiopia, Rwanda and other countries. When you increase organic matter, you increase biomass and you protect biodiversity. You get a completely different result than if you just totally destroy those systems. So I don’t think that the political agreements go far enough, but they are starting to reflect reality, which is better than before.

RI: In Paris, RI encountered skepticism about the potential power of regenerative agriculture and landscape restoration to restore climate stability and feed the world. Can you tell us about your experience with the Loess Plateau restoration project in China and how it impacted your perspective on the potential of restoration?

Liu: There was a moment in the mid-1800s when Thomas Malthus reported that the rate of agricultural increase was happening arithmetically while human population growth was logarithmic. He posited huge famine and this pushed the development of industrial agriculture. But what I’ve seen is that this is based on huge assumptions and those assumptions are basically false. If you think that you can get higher productivity by reducing hydrological function, or the natural fertility in the land or the biodiversity of a biome then you are just sadly mistaken. You can get higher yields of monocultures for a short time but you ultimately destroy the basic fundamental viability of the entire system. So you are creating deserts. This is what happened in the Loess Plateau and this is what happened in every cradle of civilization.

It isn’t inevitable that human beings degrade these systems; we simply have to understand them. It is our understanding, our consciousness of these systems that determines what they look like. What I’ve noticed is that degraded landscapes are coming from human ignorance and greed. If you change that scenario to one of consciousness and generosity, you get a completely different outcome. And that is where we have to go, where we need to go. We are required to understand this. We have to act now as a species on a planetary scale. This has to become common knowledge for every human being on the planet. This has been our mission for the past 20-some years.

RI: Apart from the ecosystem benefits, the Loess Plateau project also helped lift 2.5 million people in four of the poorest provinces in China out of poverty. Is that correct?

Liu: Well, there are different ways to look at it because the Loess Plateau project influenced more than just the project areas. It changed national policy. Some of the negative behaviors, such as slope farming, tree cutting or free ranging of goats and sheep—behaviors that were devastating to biodiversity, biomass and organic material—were banned nationwide because of the work done on the Loess Plateau.

Landscape restoration does not only change ecological function, it changes the socio-economic function and when you get down to it, it changes the intention of human society. So if the intention of human society is to extract, to manufacture, to buy and sell things, then we are still going to have a lot of problems. But when we generate an understanding that the natural ecological functions that create air, water, food and energy are vastly more valuable than anything that has ever been produced or bought and sold, or anything that ever will be produced and bought and sold – this is the point where we turn the corner to a consciousness which is much more sustainable.

RI: It’s almost as if a global paradigm shift is needed to start accounting for nature in the economy. ‘Naturalizing’ the economy as you would say.

Liu: We have to be very careful not to commoditize nature. We need to naturalize the economy. What this means to me is that natural ecological functions are more valuable than ‘stuff.’ When we understand that, then the economy is based on ecological function. And that is exactly what we need in order to mitigate and adapt to climate change, to ensure food security, and to give every individual on the planet equal human rights. Suddenly we are in another paradigm. It’s similar to the shift from flat earth to round earth paradigm.

We need to realize that there is no ‘us and them.’ There is just us. There is one earth and one humanity. We have to act as a species on a planetary scale because we will all be affected by climate change. We have to come together to decide: What do we know? What do we understand? What do we believe as a species?

RI: Tell us about your work in Rwanda.

Liu: Rwanda is an interesting case study because of the 1994 genocide. This sort of a situation is ground zero. It is a reset. Every family, every person was affected. In 2006, I was invited to Rwanda by the British government and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). What I saw in my travels were bare hillsides, erosion and sediment loads in river systems. I presented my findings to the president, prime minister, parliament, cabinet, ministries of environment and agriculture, universities and press. We put films on TV. I explained each of these natural systems and what you have to do to correct it. And at the same moment in time, everyone in Rwanda was talking about ecological function.

Several weeks later, the government wrote me a letter saying thank you for coming to Rwanda to share your experiences. Then they wrote me a second letter, in which  they said we believe you and we’re rewriting our land use policy laws to reflect that economic development in Rwanda must be based on ecological function.

The measures Rwanda has taken have led to regeneration. They had food security when there was famine in East Africa. They have had increasing use of renewable energies and lessening of dependence on fossil fuels. If human beings can go to hell yet they can somehow come back and work to build a fair, equitable and sustainable society, that is a good thing. We need to watch carefully how Rwanda develops, as a lesson for the world.

RI: Can you tell us about the widespread detrimental impacts that industrial agriculture is having, particularly with regards to loss of biodiversity? Why is biodiversity essential to sustain life as we know it?

Liu: Evolutionary trends favor more biodiversity, more organic matter. The industrial or degenerative agriculture model favors less biodiversity, less biomass, less organic matter. This disrupts photosynthesis, hydrological regulation and moisture, temperature and it artificially elevates evaporation rates. Industrial agriculture sterilizes soil with UV radiation. It is just wrongheaded.

Humans went down the wrong path. But once we begin to understand these evolutionary trends, we understand that we have to get back in alignment with them. That is where regenerative agriculture and landscape restoration come in. We’ve seen the results at large scale and we’ve seen them on a smaller scale. This is the way forward for sequestration of carbon, this is the way forward for fertile healthy soils, this is the way forward for food security this is the way forward for meaningful work for everyone. We understand this. This is the basis of wealth and sustainability for humanity.

RI: If there were one behavior or habit of humans that you could magically change, what would it be?

Liu: It is clear right now that economics is driving today’s problems. There are a lot of assumptions in economics that are simply false. Economics now says that extraction, manufacturing, buying and selling can create wealth. This is bullshit. We are creating poverty by doing this. We are creating degradation of the landscapes. So few people in a tiny minority are accumulating vast material possessions in this system, while billions of people are living in abject poverty at the edges of large degraded ecosystems. Others can no longer even stay in their homes, and millions of people are migrating to escape from the horrible conditions. Well this cannot work. This must change.

What I have noticed is that ecological function is vastly more valuable that extraction, production, consumption, and buying and selling things. What we really need to understand is: “What is money?” If I were going to leave one thing for the people to think about it is this: What is money? What is it? It is basically a storehouse of value, a means of exchange, and a trust mechanism. That means it is an abstract concept; it can be anything that we want it to be. If we say that money comes from ecological function instead from extraction, manufacturing buying and selling, then we have a system in which all human efforts go toward restoring, protecting and preserving ecological function. That is what we need to mitigate and adapt to climate change, to ensure food security, to ensure that human civilizations survive. Our monetary system must reflect reality. We could have growth, not from stuff, but growth from more functionality. If we do that and we value that higher than things, we will survive.

***

Alexandra Groome is Campaign & Events Coordinator for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.

A Message from Paris: We Can Reverse Global Warming

“Humanity stands at the edge of an abyss. We have destroyed the planet, its biodiversity, our water and the climate, and through this destruction, we have destroyed the ecological context for our survival as a species. Ecological destruction and resource grab are generating conflicts, which are being accelerated into full-blown wars and violence. A context of fear and hate is overtaking the human imagination. We need to sow the seeds of peace—peace with the earth and each other, and in so doing, create hope for our future—as one humanity and as part of one Earth community.” – Vandana Shiva, Terra Viva, Pact for the Earth

November 26, 2015

Twenty-three years after the first United Nations Earth/Climate Summit in 1992, in the wake of a savage terrorist attack on November 13 that traumatized Europe, a multinational contingent of activists and stakeholders are gathered here for the COP 21 Climate Summit. A growing number of us here in Paris are determined to change the prevailing gloom and doom conversation on climate, and instead focus on practical solutions. Frustrated by the slow pace of global efforts to address climate change, angered by the “business-as-usual” arrogance of Big Oil, King Coal, industrial agribusiness and indentured politicians, a critical mass of the global grassroots appears ready to step up the pace and embrace a new solutions-based message and strategy that we in the organic movement call Regeneration.

Ten thousand of us took to the streets of Paris on November 28, peacefully defying the government ban on street demonstrations. I, along with a delegation of North American and Latin American Regeneration activists, joined the protest, holding hands with our French and European comrades in a human chain stretching for miles. Our section of the animated chain, punctuated with colorful homemade signs, T-shirts and banners, was designated “Solutions.” Lined up at the corner of Boulevard Voltaire and Allée du Philosophe, our boisterous group’s most popular chant, repeated over and over again in Spanish, English and French, drawing smiles and thumbs-up reactions from Parisians on the streets, was “El pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido” (“The people united will never be defeated).”

Standing at the crossroads of a climate Apocalypse, a growing consensus appears to be emerging: We must not only phase out Big Oil, King Coal and industrial food and farming, and stop polluting the already supersaturated atmosphere and the oceans with additional greenhouse gases, but we must also strip out or draw down approximately 200 billion tons of excess CO2 already blanketing the atmosphere. And we must do this utilizing proven, “shovel-ready” regenerative organic farming and land use practices.

As of today, December 3, more than 50 national governments, activist organizations and stakeholder organizations (including the Organic Consumers Association and our Mexico affiliate, Via Organica) have signed on to the French government’s “4 Per 1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate” declaration. The declaration emphasizes that agriculture, and agricultural soils in particular, can play a crucial role in reversing global warming and increasing global food security.

Based on a growing body of farming practices and scientific evidence, the French government’s Initiative invites all partners to declare or to implement practical programs for carbon sequestration in soil and for the types of farming methods used to promote it (e.g. agroecology, agroforestry, conservation agriculture and landscape management). According to Andre Leu, president of IFOAM Organics International, the French Initiative on sequestering atmospheric carbon in soils via regenerative ag practices is “historic, marking the first time that international climate negotiators and stakeholders have recognized the strategic imperative of transforming and regenerating our global food and farming system in order to reverse global warming.”

Zero emissions are necessary, but not enough

Rejecting the standard discourse of 350.org and other climate groups that promote a tunnel-vision focus on “zero emissions by 2050” as the sole solution to stave off runaway global warming and climate catastrophe, a growing corps of Regenerators here in Paris, under the banner of “Refroidir la Planète” (“Cool the Planet”) and “Alimenter le Monde” (“Feed the World’) have begun to build a Regeneration International movement.

This movement is inspired by the practices of thousands of organic farmers, holistic ranchers, pastoralists and indigenous communities across the globe who are demonstrating that truly regenerative farming, grazing, forestry and land use practices, scaled up globally, sequestering in some cases up to 5-10 tons of carbon per acre per year,  literally have the potential to reverse global warming. The co-benefits of this massive recarbonization and regeneration of the soil, grasslands and forests include: reducing rural poverty, improving plant and animal health and food quality, increasing natural water storage in soils, building crop resilience restoring public health, and last, but not least, reducing global strife.

For those who have never heard of regenerative organic food, farming and land use, here’s a short fact sheet (pdf) and a longer annotated bibliography. This new Regeneration paradigm is based on the biological fact that healthy soils, grasslands and forests can literally draw down, through enhanced plant photosynthesis, enough excess carbon from the atmosphere to bring us back to pre-industrial levels of 280 parts per million of CO2.

As IFOAM states in a handout this week at the Paris Climate Summit: “We need to Reverse Climate Change—not just slow it down.” IFOAM goes on to explain:

We need to do more than just stop the increase in greenhouse gas emissions… We also have to drawdown the excess CO2 in the atmosphere to return the climate to the level where it should be—the pre-industrial level. Soils are the greatest carbon sink after the oceans, and hold significantly more carbon than the atmosphere and biomass combined. There is a growing body of published science indicating that regenerative farming systems, including organic agriculture, can strip significant amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequester it into the soil as soil organic matter. The co-benefits of this regeneration include greater resilience to adverse weather events… better adaptation to climate change… and food security… Regenerative organic farming is based upon current good practices and is a low-cost, shovel-ready solution that does not require untested, potentially catastrophic, hugely expensive geoengineering or carbon capture and storage technologies.

IFOAM’s leaflet goes on to point out that regenerative farming and land use practices are not being put forward as a substitute for stopping fossil fuel emissions, but rather as an essential complementary strategy that is absolutely necessary: “Soil carbon sequestration… and eliminating food and farming emissions… cannot be used to justify continued greenhouse gas pollution… or business as usual… We need to reverse climate change, not just sustain current greenhouse gas levels.”

Regenerating the body politic: connecting the dots for a new “Movement of Movements”

 Global Regeneration requires a revolution, not only in our thinking, but in our heretofore tunnel vision, “my issue is more important than your issue,” “my constituency is more important than your constituency,” model of grassroots organizing. Disempowed, exploited people, overwhelmed by the challenges of everyday survival, don’t have the luxury of connecting the dots between all the issues and focusing on the Big Picture. It’s the job of Regenerators to globalize the struggle, to globalize hope and connect the dots between issues, communities and constituencies. We need to move beyond mere mitigation or sustainability concepts that simply depress or demobilize people to a bold new global strategy of Regeneration.

Healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals, healthy people, healthy climate . . . our physical and economic health, our very survival as a species, is directly connected to the soil, biodiversity and the health and fertility of our food and farming systems.

So who will carry out this global Regeneration Revolution?

Of course we must continue, and in fact vastly increase, our pressure on governments and corporations to change public policies and marketplace practices. As indicated above, the most encouraging development at the Climate Summit here in Paris is that a growing number of countries and activist networks are endorsing the French government’s .4% Initiative to pay farmers to move away from the climate destructive practices of industrial agriculture and to sequester carbon in their soils. But in order to truly overturn “business-as-usual” we must inspire and mobilize a vastly larger climate change coalition than the one we have now. Food, climate and economic justice advocates must unite forces so we can educate and mobilize a massive grassroots army of Earth Regenerators: three billion small farmers and rural villagers, ranchers, pastoralists, forest dwellers, urban agriculturalists and indigenous communities—aided and abetted by several billion conscious consumers and urban activists.

The time is late. Circumstances are dire. But we still have time to regenerate the Earth and the body politic.

Here are four things you can do to join the Regeneration Movement.

(1) Change the climate conversation in your local community or in your local organization from doom and gloom to one of positive solutions, based upon the Regeneration perspective.  Join our Regeneration International Facebook page. (https://www.facebook.com/regenerationinternational) Publicize and share strategic articles, videos and best practices. If you need to study up on how soil sequestration works, read and re-read this pamphlet (https://www.organicconsumers.org/news/soil-carbon-restoration-can-biology-do-job) and go through the major articles in our annotated bibliography (https://www.organicconsumers.org/news/regenerative-agriculture-annotated-bibliography)

(2) Join or help organize a local or regional Regeneration working group. If you’re ready to become a Regeneration organizer send an email to info@regenerationinternational.org

(3) Boycott “degenerate” foods. Regenerate your health and your diet. Get ready to join OCA and Regeneration International’s soon-to-be-announced global campaign and boycott against Monsanto, factory farms, GMO animal feeds, biofuels and so-called “Climate-Smart Agriculture.” One of the most important things you can do today and every day is to buy and consume organic, grass-fed, locally produced, climate friendly foods.

(4) Help organize and plan regeneration conferences and meetings. Make your plans now to attend our Regeneration International global climate and biodiversity Summit in Mexico City December. 1-3, 2016.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association http://www.organicconsumers.org/ (U.S.) and Via Organica http://viaorganica.org/ (Mexico) and a member of the Regeneration International org steering committee. He wrote this from the COP 21 Climate Summit, Paris, France, December 3, 2015

 

IFOAM Organics International: Why the French “4 Per 1000” Initiative?

France officially launches the “4 per 1000 Initiative” to combat climate change and feed the world through regenerative agriculture.

This video features Stéphane Le Foll, the French Minister of Agriculture and Andre Leu, President of IFOAM Organics International explaining the importance of the French “4 per 1000” Initiative to reverse climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil.

Check out the latest updates on the “4 per 1000” Initiative.

Watch More Videos on Regeneration International’s YouTube Channel

Ronnie Cummins: A Message of Hope From Paris COP21

An interview with Ronnie Cummins International Director of the Organic Consumers Association and Regeneration International, from the 2015 UN World Climate Summit. Ronnie explains how consumers and farmers can unite to launch a global regeneration movement.

The French “4 per 1000” Initiative:

As of today, December 3, more than 50 national governments, activist organizations and stakeholder organizations (including the Organic Consumers Association and Mexico affiliate, Via Organica) have signed on to the French government’s “4 Per 1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate” declaration. The declaration emphasizes that agriculture, and agricultural soils in particular, can play a crucial role in reversing global warming and increasing global food security.

Based on a growing body of farming practices and scientific evidence, the French government’s Initiative invites all partners to declare or to implement practical programs for carbon sequestration in soil and for the types of farming methods used to promote it (e.g. agroecology, agroforestry, conservation agriculture and landscape management).

According to Andre Leu, president of IFOAM Organics International, the French Initiative on sequestering atmospheric carbon in soils via regenerative ag practices is “historic, marking the first time that international climate negotiators and stakeholders have recognized the strategic imperative of transforming and regenerating our global food and farming system in order to reverse global warming.”

Learn More and Join the Movement

Organics and Soil Carbon: Increasing Soil Carbon, Crop Productivity and Farm Profitability

This paper explains how atmospheric carbon is introduced into the soil and how it is stored in stable forms. It identifies the farming techniques that are responsible for the decline in soil carbon and gives alternative practices that do not damage carbon. Increasing soil carbon will ensure good production outcomes and farm profitability. Soil carbon, particularly the stable forms such as humus and glomalin, increases farm profitability by increasing yields, soil fertility, soil moisture retention, aeration, nitrogen fixation, mineral availability, disease suppression, soil tilth and general structure. It is the basis of healthy soil.

Organic agriculture also helps to reduce greenhouse gases by converting atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) into soil organic matter. Some forms of conventional agriculture have caused a massive decline in soil organic matter, due to oxidizing organic carbon by incorrect tillage, the overuse of nitrogen fertilizers and from topsoil loss through wind and water erosion.

Why is carbon important to productive farming?

Soil carbon is one of the most neglected yet most important factors in soil fertility, disease control, water efficiency and farm productivity. Humus and its related acids are significantly important forms of carbon. Below is a summary of the benefits of humus.

Keep Reading in The Natural Farmer

Mother Earth Day 2015: Regenerating the Soil and Reversing Global Warming

The elimination of fossil fuels for all but the most limited and essential purposes is necessary but not sufficient to allow our descendants a fair chance for a healthy and prosperous future. Enhancing carbon biosequestration in terrestrial ecosystems is also essential.”  Wayne A. White, Biosequestration and Ecological Diversity p.118 (CRC Press 2013)

The standard gloom and doom discourse surrounding global warming and climate change has infected the body politic with a severe case of depression and disempowerment. So starting today April 22, embracing what the United Nations has designated as the “Year of the Soil,” let’s look at our planetary crisis from an entirely different, and more hopeful perspective.

The good news is that the global grassroots, farmers and consumers united, can reverse our suicidal “business as usual” food, farming, energy, and land use practices. Harnessing the awesome power of Regenerative Organic Agriculture and reforestation, we can literally suck down enough excess (50-100 ppm of CO2) heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and naturally sequester it in our plants, trees and soils.  Regenerative Agriculture and Earth Repair practices can not only mitigate, but also, in combination with drastic reductions (80-90 percent) of fossil fuel emissions in our food and farming, transportation, housing, utilities, and industrial sectors, actually reverse global warming.

Regenerative Agriculture and Forestry

If you’ve never heard about the amazing potential of regenerative agriculture and land use practices to naturally sequester a critical mass of CO2 in the soil and forests, you’re not alone. One of the best-kept secrets in the world today is that the solution to global warming and the climate crisis (as well as poverty and deteriorating public health) lies right under our feet, and at the end of our knives and forks. Changing our food and farming systems, along with changing our “business as usual” political system and energy policies, is the key to our survival and well-being.

Transforming and regenerating our planet’s 28 billion acres of cropland, grassland and forests, as well as urban areas of the planet, is the challenge—not only for Mother Earth Day 2015, but for the rest of our lives, and the lives of our children and grandchildren.

Global Organic Regeneration and Earth Repair is the key to drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions from our current unsustainable food, farming and deforestation practices (which now produce the majority of greenhouse gas emissions).

Regenerative Earth Repair is the absolute prerequisite for ramping up plant and forest photosynthesis and sequestering in the soil several hundred billion tons of excess atmospheric CO2 over the next two decades.

A global campaign of Earth Repair and Regeneration can buy us the precious time we need to move away from fossil fuels to a global economy based upon renewable energy. Global Regeneration will dramatically improve soil fertility, crop yields, soil water retention, crop resilience, and food quality, thereby helping to mitigate and reverse global poverty, malnutrition and deteriorating public health.

Before we look how we can sequester up to 200 percent of current human greenhouse gas emissions through regenerating the planet’s croplands (four billion acres), pastures and rangelands (14 billion acres), and forests (10 billion acres), let’s look at what Michael Pollan, the U.S.’s most influential writer on food and farming, has to say about plant photosynthesis, regenerative grazing, and carbon sequestration:

Consider what happens when the sun shines on a grass plant rooted in the earth. Using that light as a catalyst, the plant takes atmospheric CO2, splits off and releases the oxygen, and synthesizes liquid carbon–sugars, basically. Some of these sugars go to feed and build the aerial portions of the plant we can see, but a large percentage of this liquid carbon—somewhere between 20 and 40 percent—travels underground, leaking out of the roots and into the soil. The roots are feeding these sugars to the soil microbes—the bacteria and fungi that inhabit the rhizosphere—in exchange for which those microbes provide various services to the plant: defense, trace minerals, access to nutrients the roots can’t reach on their own. That liquid carbon has now entered the microbial ecosystem, becoming the bodies of bacteria and fungi that will in turn be eaten by other microbes in the soil food web. Now, what had been atmospheric carbon (a problem) has become soil carbon, a solution—and not just to a single problem, but to a great many problems.

Besides taking large amounts of carbon out of the air—tons of it per acre when grasslands are properly managed… that process at the same time adds to the land’s fertility and its capacity to hold water. Which means more and better food for us…

This process of returning atmospheric carbon to the soil works even better when ruminants are added to the mix. Every time a calf or lamb shears a blade of grass, that plant, seeking to rebalance its “root-shoot ratio,” sheds some of its roots. These are then eaten by the worms, nematodes, and microbes—digested by the soil,in effect, and so added to its bank of carbon. This is how soil is created: from the bottom up.

What is Regenerative Agriculture?

A recent article in the Guardian summarizes Regenerative Agriculture:

Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralises soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertiliser runoff.

With these basic concepts of photosynthesis and Regenerative Agriculture in mind, what do we need to do?

(1) Regenerate croplands, eliminate GMOs, pesticides, monocultures, chemical fertilizers, and tillage. If we can mobilize the global grassroots to promote and adopt regenerative organic agricultural practices (“organic and beyond”) on the Earth’s four billion acres of cultivated farmland, we can drastically reduce our use of fossil fuel inputs and slash greenhouse gas emissions; produce healthier, climate-resistant crops and nutrient-dense food; and meanwhile sequester large amounts of carbon in our degraded, de-carbonized soils. Our agricultural soils have lost 25-75 percent of the soil carbon they once had before the onslaught of unsustainable agricultural practices.

As the must-read 2014 Rodale Institute White Paper explains:

In practical terms, regenerative organic agriculture is foremost an organic system refraining from the use of synthetic pesticides and inputs, which disrupt soil life, and fossil-fuel dependent nitrogen fertilizer, which is responsible for the majority of anthropogenic N2O emissions. It is a system designed to build soil health.

Regenerative organic agriculture is comprised of organic practices including (at a minimum): cover crops, residue mulching, composting and crop rotation. Conservation tillage, while not yet widely used in organic systems, is a regenerative organic practice integral to soil-carbon sequestration.

As the Rodale research indicates, and is echoed by numerous other field trials across the globe, Regenerative Organic practices on cultivated farmlands across the world can, over the next few decades sequester 40 percent of current human greenhouse gas emissions.

(2) Regenerate grasslands and pasture lands, eliminate factory farms. Even more encouraging, as Rodale and others, including Quivira Coalition and the Savory Institute, point out, by adopting regenerative grazing practices on the earth’s seriously degraded 14 billion acres of pastureland and grassland (there is 3.5 times as much pasture land and rangeland on the Earth as there is cultivated farmland), we can eventually sequester an additional 71 percent of all current greenhouse gas emissions.

In other words by eliminating inhumane, unhealthy and heavily polluting factory farms or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), which now produce 2/3 of all global meat and animal products, and by putting billions of the Earth’s 70 billion farm animals back on the land, we can regenerate, through planned rotational “mob” grazing, and the production of grass fed beef and dairy, and pasture-based pork and poultry, the 14 billion acres of rangeland and pastureland that are our most strategic “sink” or depository for excess CO2 in the atmosphere.

Last year Dr. Richard Teague of Texas A&M explained the principles of planned rotational (“mob”) grazing to a House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources (June 25, 2014):

The key to sustaining and regenerating ecosystem function in rangelands is actively managing for reduction of bare ground, promoting the most beneficial and productive plants by grazing moderately over the whole landscape, and providing adequate recovery to grazed plants…

Regenerative grazing and pasturing on a global scale will require the dismantling of the entire factory farm system, freeing billions of farm animals from their animal prisons or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) and putting them back out onto the land to graze and forage where they belong. Once CAFO and GMO crop subsidies are reduced and removed, and once the pent-up market demand for healthier, more humanely produced meat, dairy and eggs can be harnessed, the factory farm/GMO industrial food and farming system will begin to collapse.

With billions of animals released from intensive confinement (including freeing herbivores from unnatural, unhealthy GMO grain diets), marketplace pressure will encourage farmers and ranchers to adopt herd management strategies that replicate natural or wild herd habits. This involves herbivores rotationally grazing only the top grasses of small pastures, for short periods of time, defecating and urinating and forcing the stubble into the topsoil. After the grasses recover, then the herd or flocks are returned for a few days to harvest the most nutritious grasses again. With omnivores (pigs and chickens), free range or pasturing practices will similarly restore animal and soil health as well.

The current factory farm system takes the naturally grazing cattle off pasture to enormous feedlots to fatten them up with corn, soybeans, cotton seed cake, cotton gin trash, sludge-fertilized hay, and waste industrial products. Cows, sheep, and other herbivores are not grain, GMO, or garbage eaters by choice. Their preferred foods are mixed grasses.

Regenerative grazing is not something new, but rather a rediscovery of the beneficial animal welfare and environmental practices that were “normal” (buffalo and elk on the grasslands of the US, wildebeest herds in Africa, communal grazing practices worldwide) before the advent of industrial farming and CAFOs.

One very important benefit of grass-fed beef, sheep, goats and dairy, and pastured poultry and pigs—a benefit which is already starting to drive consumers away from factory farmed foods—is that grass-fed or pastured animal products are qualitatively healthier than CAFO products, higher in Omega 3 and “good” fats, and lower in animal drug residues and harmful fats that clog arteries, destroy gut health and cause cancer.

(3) Regenerate forests and wetlands, end deforestation. By halting unsustainable land use and deforestation of the planet’s remaining 10 billion acres of forest (deforestation is now responsible for a full 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions), by re-planting species-appropriate trees on five billion deforested rural and urban acres, by incorporating sustainable forest management practices on existing forests, and by integrating agro-forestry practices on existing farms and ranches (and restoring wetlands), we can drastically reduce carbon emissions while sequestering billions of tons of excess carbon in our forest lands and in reforested rural and urban environments.

As permaculture author Michal Pilarski explains in his “Carbon Sequestration Proposal for the World,” we can reverse global warming by:

I.    Reforestation/Afforestation of 5 billion acres worldwide = 150 billion tons of carbon sequestration.

II.    Earth repair and improved ecosystem management of existing forests and all other terrestrial ecosystems = 100 billion tons of carbon sequestration.

Earth repair and reforestation of our cities, forests, marshes, savannas, grasslands, steppes, and deserts could eventually add up to a total of 250 billion tons of carbon sequestered. This translates into removing over 100 ppm of excess CO2 from the atmosphere and putting it into the soil and forests. This level of carbon sequestration would bring atmospheric carbon dioxide levels down to where they were in the early 1800s, if carried out in combination with slashing human-caused carbon emissions.

According to biosequestration expert, Wayne White, if we could just stop all tropical deforestation, and maintain the health of our forests, the increased photosynthesis of this massive forest growth would sequester a full 69 percent of all human greenhouse gas emissions. (Biosequestration and Ecological Diversity p. 93)

Too many forests have been degraded, or clear-cut, or over-grazed and even over-fertilized with nitrogen. Too much land has been developed, exploited, and then abandoned. The solutions to our forest crisis are similar to organic farming solutions. We need to practice sustainable forestry management strategies that restore the mycorrhizal and other forest fungi, and replant clear-cut areas with high-density, species-appropriate plantings. We need to manage this reforestation, including thinning and pest control. We need to avoid the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers because they damage fungi and other microorganisms, which are the foundations of a successful reforestation program. With reforestation and restoration of the forest floor microorganisms, our forests will be able to sequester billions of tons of carbon.

Critics of the Earth Repair strategy

A number of critics of our Earth Repair strategy have told me and other regeneration activists that we should not talk about natural sequestration of CO2 in the soil, nor the enormous Regenerative potential of organic food, farming,and forestry, because this “positive talk” will distract people from the main task at hand, drastically reducing fossil fuel emissions and taking down King Coal and Big Oil.

Of course we need to move rapidly away from fossil fuels, extractivism and overconsumption into conservation, sustainable living and renewable energy. We must all become climate hawks and radical conservationists. But we must also become advocates of Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Forest/Land Use.

Unite the Food, Forest, and Climate Movements

The large and growing anti-GMO, organic food, and natural health movement in the U.S., for example, of which I am a part, must begin to think of ourselves as climate and food activists, not just advocates for natural health, small farmers/ranchers, animals and food justice. Given that the GMO, factory farm and industrial food and farming system seen as a whole (production, chemical crop inputs, processing, transportation, waste, emissions, deforestation, biofuel/ethanol production) is the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions, surpassing even the transportation, utilities, housing and industry sectors, climate activists need to start thinking of ourselves as food activists as well.

There will be no organic food, nor food whatsoever, on a burnt planet. Nor will there ever be a 90-percent reduction in greenhouse gas pollution without a transformation of our food and farming and land use practices, both in North America and globally.

We must begin to connect the dots between fossil fuels, global warming and related issues, including world hunger, poverty, unemployment, toxic food and farming, extractivism, land grabbing, biodiversity, ocean destruction, deforestation, resource wars, and deteriorating public health. As we regenerate the soil and forests, and make organic and grass-fed food and fiber the norm, rather than just the alternative, we will simultaneously develop our collective capacity to address all of the globe’s interrelated problems.

Breaking through the silos of single-issue campaigning and limited constituency organizing (“my issue is more important than your issue”), we will be able to expand our global grassroots Movement to include everyone who cares about climate, health, justice, jobs, sustainability, peace and democracy.

Some pessimists argue that the Global South (China, India, Africa, Asia, Latin America), where most of the world’s population lives, is too preoccupied with moving beyond poverty and creating jobs, to put a priority on reversing global warming, reducing emissions, and natural sequestration.

But the extraordinary thing about de-industrializing food and farming, restoring grasslands and reversing deforestation—moving several hundred billion tons of carbon back from the atmosphere into our soils, plants and forests—is that this Organic Regeneration will not only reverse global warming and re-stabilize the climate, but will also stimulate hundreds of millions of rural (and urban) jobs, while qualitatively increasing soil fertility, water retention, farm yields and food quality.

Earth Repair holds the potential not only to restore forests and grasslands, recharge aquifers, restore and normalize rainfall, but also to address and eliminate rural malnutrition, poverty, unemployment and hunger. Regenerative agriculture and land use—which will require both enormous political struggle and unprecedented marketplace pressure—will lead to healthy soils, healthy forests, healthy climate, healthy food, healthy animals, healthy people, healthy societies.

As 350.org and other climate campaigners point out, we’ve got to force the fossil fuel corporados and Wall Street banksters to leave 2/3 or more of the remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground. We can basically burn 825 billion tons more of fossil fuels out of the 2.785 trillion remaining, but no more, according to scientific consensus, before we reach the point of no return, whereby climate change morphs into climate catastrophe.

To stay within our carbon budget, we’ve got to stop the fracking, the tar sands, the pipelines, the bomb trains, King Coal, and nuclear madness.

But we’ve got to do more than just protest, resist and divest. We must shut down King Coal and Big Oil’s greenhouse gas pollution, yes; but we must also suck down and naturally sequester over the next 20 years, several hundred billion tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases through the qualitatively enhanced photosynthesis of regenerative farming, ranching and land use.

We must make peace with the living Earth and restore our biotic community.

According to scientific consensus, soon to be formally ratified by the nations of the world at the Paris Climate Summit in December 2015, fossil fuel emissions—now spewing out 8.5 billion tons of carbon annually (i.e. 32.3 billion tons of CO2 in 2013 and again in 2014) into the atmosphere and the oceans—must peak and go to zero by 2050. Unfortunately, even if every country moves to zero emissions by 2050, we will still find ourselves way past the danger zone at 480 ppm or higher of CO2.  Only a mass global campaign of Regenerative Agriculture and land use, combined with dismantling the Fossil Fuel Empire, will suffice.

So who will actually carry out this global campaign of Earth Repair and Organic Regeneration? Of course we must continue, and, in fact vastly increase, our pressure on governments and corporations to change public policies and marketplace practices. But in order to overturn “business as usual” we’re going to have to inspire and mobilize a vastly larger climate change coalition than the one we have now. Food climate and economic justice advocates must unite our forces so we can educate and mobilize a massive grassroots army of Earth Regenerators: three billion small farmers and rural villagers, ranchers, pastoralists, forest dwellers, urban agriculturalists, and indigenous communities—aided and abetted by several billion conscious consumers and urban activists.

We don’t have the time or space here for a full Earth Repair strategy, but here are five things we can start to do immediately on this Mother Earth Day 2015:

(1)    Educate yourself, your friends, and your family on the basic principles of Earth Repair      and Regenerative Organic Agriculture. Here’s an annotated bibliography to help you get started.

(2)    Join an activist organization dealing with food and farming, forest preservation or climate. If you’re already an activist, get your group to connect the dots between fossil fuel emissions reduction and natural carbon sequestration.

(3)    Boycott all GMO, chemical-intensive and CAFO foods. Purchase organic and 100-percent grass-fed or pastured products. Push the organic community top go beyond the minimum standards of “USDA Organic” to food and farming practices that are climate-friendly, re-localized and regenerative, as well as organic.

(4)    Support the organizations that are educating and agitating for regenerative agriculture and land use. These groups include:

Organic Consumers Organization, The Carbon Underground, IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements), NavdanyaInstitutefor Agriculture and Trade Policy, The Rodale Institute, Quivira Coalition, The Savory Institute, and others.

(5)    Change the climate conversation from gloom and doom to one of positive solutions. We’ve got 20 years left to turn things around, but we need to start our Regeneration International campaign now, Mother Earth Day 2015.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico sister organization, Via Organica.

From ‘Sustainable’ to ‘Regenerative’—The Future of Food

This week (October 26, 2015), the paywalled site PoliticoPro reported that the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture wants “farmers and agricultural interests to come up with a single definition of sustainability in order to avoid confusing the public with various meanings of the term in food and production methods.”

We agree with Secretary Tom Vilsack that the word “sustainability” is meaningless to consumers and the public. It’s overused, misused and it has been shamelessly co-opted by corporations for the purpose of greenwashing.

But rather than come up with one definition for the word “sustainable” as it refers to food and food production methods, we suggest doing away with the word entirely. In its place, as a way of helping food consumers make conscious, informed decisions, we suggest dividing global food and farming into two categories: regenerative and degenerative.

In this new paradigm, consumers could choose food produced by degenerative, toxic chemical-intensive, monoculture-based industrial agriculture systems that destabilize the climate, and degrade soil, water, biodiversity, health and local economies. Or they could choose food produced using organic regenerative practices based on sound ecological principles that rejuvenate the soil, grasslands and forests; replenish water; promote food sovereignty; and restore public health and prosperity—all while cooling the planet by drawing down billions of tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil where it belongs.

‘Sustainable’—Is that All We Want?

The dictionary defines “sustainable” as: able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed; involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources; able to last or continue for a long time.

In other words, sustainability is about maintaining systems without degrading them. And it is about keeping things much the same without progressing.

Industrial agriculture today, with its factory farms, waste lagoons, antibiotics and growth hormones, GMOs, toxic pesticides and prolific use of synthetic fertilizers, doesn’t come close to “not using up or destroying natural resources.”  And even if it did, is that all we want, or need, to achieve?

Or do we want to grow our food in ways that restore climate stability and regenerate—soil, health, economies—rather than merely maintain the status quo?

Greenwashing and the Labeling Game

Corporations love to brand themselves, and label their products, as “sustainable.” The hope is that consumers will view “sustainable” products as superior to mere “conventional” products, or better yet, equate the word “sustainable” with “organic.”

But when a widely discredited and despised company like Monsanto co-opts the word “sustainable,” the word loses all meaning for consumers. On its website, Monsanto says:

Our vision for sustainable agriculture strives to meet the needs of a growing population, to protect and preserve this planet we all call home, and to help improve lives everywhere. In 2008 Monsanto made a commitment to sustainable agriculture – pledging to produce more, conserve more, and improve farmers’ lives by 2030.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready, chemical-intensive GMO crops now dominate agriculture, on a global scale, poisoning soil, water, air, farm workers and consumers. The words on their website fool no one—the agriculture they promote is anything but “sustainable.”

It is the same with the certified “sustainability” labels promoted by corporations such as Cargill, Heinz Benelux, Mars, Nestlé, Unilever and Cadbury. These labeling schemes, such as Rainforest Alliance, Sustainable Agriculture Network, and UTZ can be congratulated for promoting the planting of trees on farms, for improving the farm environment and for requiring compliance with minimum labor standards. But they do nothing to curtail the use of soil-destroying, climate-destabilizing chemical fertilizers and the thousands of toxic pesticides that are known to cause both environmental and health damage.

A “sustainability” label may mean the production methods behind a product inflicted somewhat less damage on the environment. But it doesn’t mean the product will cause less damage to human health. Numerous published scientific studies link exposure to the smallest amounts of these “approved” pesticides to cancers, birth defects, endocrine disruption, reproductive problems, developmental neurotoxicity, ADHD, autism, obesity, type 2 diabetes, reproductive problems, immune system damage, epigenetic mutations, kidney, liver and heart disease and numerous other non-communicable diseases that are currently in epidemic proportions.

Most of the farmers enrolled in these “sustainability programs” used to grow crops or graze animals traditionally, with little or no chemicals. The same is true for the many thousands of certified organic coffee and cacao farmers who have been hijacked by these schemes—schemes which allow them to charge a premium without meeting the more rigorous organic standards. How can the promoters of these “sustainability” labels claim that they are reducing chemical use when they have converted thousands of low-input traditional farmers to the use of chemicals that they never used before?

A global ‘Regeneration Revolution’ is under way.

In the 1970s, Robert Rodale, son of American organic pioneer J.I. Rodale coined the term ‘regenerative organic agriculture’ to distinguish a kind of farming that goes beyond simply “sustainable.”

According to the Rodale Institute:

Regenerative organic agriculture improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them. It is a holistic systems approach to agriculture that encourages continual on-farm innovation for environmental, social, economic and spiritual well-being.

Regenerative organic agriculture “takes advantage of the natural tendencies of ecosystems to regenerate when disturbed. In that primary sense it is distinguished from other types of agriculture that either oppose or ignore the value of those natural tendencies.” Regenerative organic agriculture is marked by tendencies towards closed nutrient loops, greater diversity in the biological community, fewer annuals and more perennials, and greater reliance on internal rather than external resources. Regenerative organic agriculture is aligned with forms of agroecology practiced by farmers concerned with food sovereignty the world over.”

We opened this piece by stating that we agree with Vilsack—the word “sustainability,” in the context of food and food production, has led to consumer confusion.

But we don’t like where Vilsack is headed. He told PoliticoPro:

“In recent years, Consumers have raised concerns about conventional agricultural practices, which has led to the growth of organic, GMO-free foods and ‘natural’ products, often at the expense of the reputation of conventional products. I think it’s going to be incumbent on us to have a common understanding of what [sustainability] means to better serve the interests of agriculture as a whole and consumers.”

At the “expense of the reputation of conventional products”? Is Vilsack referring to the well-earned bad reputation of products (those containing GMOs and toxic pesticides, perhaps?) produced using degenerative, rather than regenerative, practices?

A “common understanding” of what sustainability is might better serve the interests of Monsanto and the agribusiness corporations—but it will do little to serve the interests of small farmers and consumers.

The number one driver behind rising sales of organic foods is consumer concern about health, especially pesticides, growth hormones and GMOs. But as scientists issue increasingly dire warnings about the climate, and people throughout the world connect the dots between industrial agriculture and global warming, there is a growing contingent of farmers and consumers who want to do more.

An increasing number of farmers want to grow food and raise animals using organic and regenerative farming and grazing practices that are not only better for human health, but that also cool the planet, feed the world, heal the soil, foster food sovereignty and strengthen communities.

And consumers want to purchase those products, knowing that their production generated healing, not harm.

It’s a Regeneration Revolution. And it goes well beyond “sustainability.”

André Leu is president of IFOAM Organics International, and on the steering committee of Regeneration International.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association, and on the steering committee of Regeneration International.

Regeneration: Global Transformation in Catastrophic Times

Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention…. It is not enough to balance, in the medium term, the protection of nature with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment with progress. Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster.  – Pope Francis, Papal Encyclical “Laudato Si,” June 18, 2015

Regenerate—to give fresh life or vigor to; to reorganize; to recreate the moral nature; to cause to be born again.” (New Webster’s Dictionary, 1997)

A growing number of climate, food, environment, health and justice advocates are embracing and promoting a world-changing concept: regeneration.

What is regeneration? And why are a so many public figures, including Pope Francis, calling for regeneration or revolution, rather than “halfway measures” such as sustainability or mitigation?

The inconvenient truth of course is that our degenerate “profit-at-any-cost” global economy is killing us. The living Earth—our soils, forests and oceans—and the “rhythms of nature” are unraveling. Greed and selfishness have displaced sharing and cooperation. Land grabs, Empire-building, resource wars, and out-of-control consumerism have become the norm.

Catastrophic times demand radical solutions. It’s time for change, big change.

Our heat-trapping, climate-disrupting, fossil fuel-intensive, industrial agriculture-and deforestation-induced CO2 monster in the sky, now approaching 400 parts per million (ppm), is the most serious threat humans have ever faced. Either we take down King Coal and Big Oil and switch to renewable energy, and simultaneously move, literally suck down, several hundred billion tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere and naturally sequester this CO2 in the soil and forests—through regenerative farming, grazing and land use practices—or we are doomed.

According to activist and author Vandana Shiva, “Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.”

But just what do we mean by Regenerative Agriculture?

Solving the Soil, Food and Health Crisis

The international community has set itself three important goals: to stop the loss of biodiversity, keep global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, and ensure everyone has the right to adequate food. Without fertile soil, none of these objectives will be achieved. – Soil Atlas: Facts and figures about earth, land and fields, Heinrich Boll Foundation, 2015

The loss of the world’s fertile soil and biodiversity, along with the loss of indigenous seeds and knowledge, pose a mortal threat to our future survival. According to soil scientists, at current rates of soil destruction, (i.e. decarbonization, erosion, desertification, chemical pollution), within 50 years we will not only suffer serious damage to public health due to a qualitatively degraded food supply characterized by diminished nutrition and loss of important trace minerals, but we will literally no longer have enough arable topsoil to feed ourselves. Without protecting and regenerating the soil on our four billion acres of cultivated farmland, 14 billion acres of pasture and rangeland, and 10 billion acres of forest land, it will be impossible to feed the world, keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, or halt the loss of biodiversity.

Healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals, healthy forests, healthy oceans, rivers and lakes, healthy people, a healthy climate . . . our physical and economic health, our very survival as a species, depends upon whether or not, and how quickly, we can carry out a global campaign of Regeneration.

According to a recent policy proposal by the French government, we need to increase plant photosynthesis and carbon sequestration in global soils by at least 0.4 percent each year if we are to head off runaway global warming.

Tom Newmark of the Carbon Underground explains the basic concept of Regeneration:

There is a technology that exists today that will suck excess CO2 out of the atmosphere. That technology is called photosynthesis. When I look outside my office window I see plants. Through photosynthesis, plants convert sunlight, CO2 and water to carbohydrates and oxygen. Plants are sucking tens of billions of tons of CO2 and creating plant sugars/carbohydrates. Some plant sugars we eat and some pass through the plant and get converted into humus, soil organic matter. This isn’t rocket science. This is a biological fact.

The soil itself is the largest available sink for CO2. There is more carbon currently sequestered in the living soils of the planet (2,700 billion tons), than there is in the entire atmosphere and biotic community combined (plants, and trees).The bad news is that by ripping up the soil through industrial agriculture abuse, we’ve put excess CO2 into the atmosphere.

The good news is that if we farm and ranch in harmony with carbon cycles, we can put carbon back in the soil—quickly. Scientists say that we can get back to 350 ppm in 10 years. All we have to do is increase soil organic matter in all grasslands on the planet by one percent. That is all we need to do to bring it back to 350 ppm. Nature can fix this problem that humans have created.

Along with educating ourselves and our community, we must utilize marketplace pressure to change our degenerate food and farming systems. We must boycott the fossil fuel-emitting, soil-destroying, climate-destructive products of industrial agriculture and the junk food industry. We must support those farmers and businesses whose products regenerate our health, our soils and our forests. Marketplace pressure, public education, and public policy change must go hand-in-hand.

A recent article in the Guardian summarizes Regenerative Agriculture this way:

Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralises soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertiliser runoff.

The benefits of raising and grazing beef cattle, sheep, goats, dairy cows, poultry and pigs “in ways that mimic nature” are many. These practices are more humane, they rebuild soil fertility and they sequester carbon in the soil.

But there’s another important benefit to these techniques, one that is driving consumers away from factory farm foods. These practices produce animal products that are qualitatively healthier than CAFO products, because they are higher in Omega 3 and “good” fats, and lower in animal drug residues and harmful fats that clog arteries, destroy gut health and cause cancer.

Our agricultural soils have lost 25-75 percent of the soil carbon they once held in storage before the onslaught of industrial agricultural and destructive land use practices. The most important task of our generation is Regeneration: to put this dislodged, heat-trapping atmospheric carbon back into the soil and forests, where it belongs.

The Climate Crisis: Halfway Solutions Are Not Enough

Unfortunately, the current climate change movement up until now has focused almost exclusively on reducing fossil fuel emissions. There has been little or no mention of the critical role soil and forests play as carbon sinks or repositories for excess CO2 in the atmosphere.

Reducing fossil fuel emissions to zero over the next few decades, as called for by climate activist leaders such as Naomi Klein and 350.org, will solve half the problem, but only half. By the time we reach zero emissions under this “50-percent solution” scenario, sometime around 2050, even the most optimistic projections are that already have passed the “danger zone” of 450 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, a level that will likely detonate runaway global warming, and catastrophic climate change.

So widespread is this fixation on fossil fuel emissions that even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the upcoming Paris Climate Summit have yet to recognize soil and soil regeneration practices as important carbon sinks. Yet there is a growing body of scientific evidence to support the idea that Regenerative Organic Agriculture, grazing, reforestation and land use practices, scaled up globally, could not only mitigate, but actually, over several decades, reverse global warming.

We need to embrace the regenerative “100-percent solution” if we want to get back down to the safe level of 350 ppm or lower, as soon as possible. And we need to pressure the IPCC and national governments to acknowledge the importance of carbon sequestration through regenerative land use practices.

A number of critics have told me and others that we should not talk about natural sequestration of CO2 in the soil, nor the enormous regenerative potential of organic food, farming and forestry, because this “positive talk” will distract people from the main task at hand, drastically reducing fossil fuel emissions and taking down King Coal and Big Oil. Of course we need to move rapidly away from fossil fuels, extractivism and over-consumption into conservation, sustainable living and renewable energy. We must all become climate activists and radical conservationists.

But we must also become advocates of Regenerative Organic Agriculture and forest/land use.

Unite the Food, Forest and Climate Movements

The large and growing anti-GMO, organic food and natural health movement must begin to think of itself as a movement that can fix not only the world’s health and hunger crisis, but the climate as well.  Given that the degenerate GMO, factory farm and industrial food and farming system as a whole (production, chemical crop inputs, processing, transportation, waste, emissions, deforestation, biofuel/ethanol production) is the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions, surpassing even the transportation, utilities, housing and industry sectors, climate activists need to start thinking of themselves as food, farming and natural health activists as well.

There will be no organic food, nor food whatsoever, on a burnt planet. Nor will there ever be a 90-percent reduction in greenhouse gas pollution without a transformation of our food and farming and land use practices, both in North America and globally.

We must begin to connect the dots between fossil fuels, global warming and related issues, including world hunger, poverty, unemployment, toxic food and farming, extractivism, land grabbing, biodiversity, ocean destruction, deforestation, resource wars, and deteriorating public health. As we regenerate the soil and forests, and make organic and grass-fed food and fiber the norm, rather than just the alternative, we will simultaneously develop our collective capacity to address all of the globe’s interrelated problems.

The extraordinary thing about de-industrializing food and farming, restoring grasslands and reversing deforestation—moving several hundred billion tons of carbon back from the atmosphere into our soils, plants and forests—is that this regeneration process will not only reverse global warming and re-stabilize the climate, but will also stimulate hundreds of millions of rural (and urban) jobs, while qualitatively increasing soil fertility, water retention, farm yields and food quality.

Regeneration holds the potential not only to restore forests and grasslands, recharge aquifers, restore and normalize rainfall, but also to address and eliminate rural malnutrition, poverty, unemployment and hunger.

So who will carry out this global Regeneration Revolution?

Of course we must continue, and in fact vastly increase, our pressure on governments and corporations to change public policies and marketplace practices. But in order to overturn “business-as-usual” we must inspire and mobilize a vastly larger climate change coalition than the one we have now. Food, climate, and economic justice advocates must unite our forces so we can educate and mobilize a massive grassroots army of Earth Regenerators: three billion small farmers and rural villagers, ranchers, pastoralists, forest dwellers, urban agriculturalists, and indigenous communities—aided and abetted by several billion conscious consumers and urban activists.

The time is late. Circumstances are dire. But we still have time to regenerate the Earth and the body politic.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico affiliate, Via Organica. He is also a member of the steering committee for the newly formed Regeneration International.