In 2013, Trucost released a report that monetized the value of the negative environmental externalities produced by the world’s largest business sectors. The results of the report were damning, especially for the industrial agriculture sector, and specifically for cattle ranching and farming businesses. Of more than 1,000 region-sectors analyzed, industrial cattle ranching and farming in South America had the second greatest overall environmental cost, totaling to nearly $355 billion. When compared to revenues of only $17 billion, it’s quite easy to see that if these businesses were forced to pay for their pollution, land degradation, and overall disruption of ecosystem services they would not only not be profitable, but they wouldn’t even be able to cover their capital costs!
Cattle ranching operations in South America aren’t the only ones to blame, either. Cattle ranching in North America produced over $30 billion in negative land use externalities alone, and that doesn’t account for air or water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, or waste production! Because these operations do not have to pay for these costs, they are able to sell exceptionally cheap products while still turning a profit. That’s why you should be skeptical when you see ground beef advertised for $3.99/lb. That price certainly does not take into account the billions in environmental externalities produced during the lifecycle of the product, and it certainly doesn’t even leave enough wiggle room to pay the farmer a living wage, but that’s a discussion for another day.
At Walden, we only work with partner farms who are stewards of the land and are committed to raising animals the right way. This doesn't mean that they produce limited negative externalities - it means that they produce positive externalities through the implementation of 100% grass-fed pasture systems, practices that regenerate soil health & fertility and support functional working landscapes that sequester carbon and support perennial pasture growth. As we’ve written about extensively in prior blog posts, raising animals in a sustainable, regenerative manner can in fact leave our land, air, and ecosystems in a better state than if they were left untouched by increasing carbon sequestration, decreasing methane production, and improving overall ecosystem health by restoring natural ecosystem services.