Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Mandan, North Dakota » Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #357941

Research Project: Sustainable Agricultural Systems for the Northern Great Plains

Location: Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory

Title: Is grassfed meat and dairy better for human and environmental health

Author
item PROVENZA, FREDERICK - Utah State University
item Kronberg, Scott
item GREGORINI, PABLO - Lincoln University - New Zealand

Submitted to: Frontiers in Nutrition
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/21/2019
Publication Date: 3/19/2019
Citation: Provenza, F.D., Kronberg, S.L., Gregorini, P. 2019. Is grassfed meat and dairy better for human and environmental health? Frontiers in Nutrition. 6:26. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2019.00026.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2019.00026

Interpretive Summary: It may be possible to improve human and environmental health by growing plants that produce beneficial plant antioxidant or other compounds in pastures and fields for livestock to graze. Richness of grazing animal diets increases as plant diversity rises from livestock fed cereal grains in feedlots to grain-pasture mixes to diverse pastures. Circumstantial evidence supports the idea that biochemical richness of meat and dairy is important for human and environmental health. Future studies should help clarify how plant diversity affects the grazing animal diets; how that influences the flavor and biochemical richness of meat and dairy; and how that affects the health of people and the planet.

Technical Abstract: Our palates link the health of soil and plants with animals and environments. While only 4% of the global meat and milk supply comes from grassfed livestock, livestock grazing systems can deliver a sizable share of climate mitigations. Of 80 ways to mitigate climate change, silvopasture ranks ninth—the most powerful of all agricultural strategies—regenerative agriculture ranks eleventh, and managed grazing ranks nineteenth. The health of soil, plants, herbivores, and climate can be improved when erosion-prone cropping systems are replaced by pastures or fields where livestock graze phytochemically rich mixtures of grasses and forbs and perhaps shrubs and trees. In turn, some phytochemicals can protect meat and dairy from the protein oxidation and lipid peroxidation that cause the low-grade systemic inflammation implicated in cancer and heart disease in humans. Phytochemical richness of herbivore diets increases as botanical diversity rises from livestock fed cereal grains in feedlots to grain-pasture mixes to botanically diverse pastures and rangelands. Nevertheless, epidemiological and ecological studies critical of red meat consumption do not discriminate among meats from livestock fed high-grain rations versus livestock foraging on pastures or fields varying in phytochemical richness. Circumstantial evidence supports the hypothesis that biochemical richness of meat and dairy is important for human and environmental health. Future studies should elucidate how plant diversity affects the phytochemical richness of herbivore diets; how that influences the flavor and biochemical richness of meat and dairy; and how that affects the health of people and the planet. Findings from these studies would illuminate interrelationships among liking for flavor in meat and dairy, the needs of cells and organ systems for biochemically rich foods, and the health of humans and the land, water, and air that nurture life. They would also help consumers understand how the foods we eat reflect our relationships with landscapes, waterscapes, and airscapes, manifest through phytochemical diversity, thus revealing how palates link soil and plants with animals and environments.