Organic production of animal feed increases biodiversity

The production of organic feed for animals supports important biodiversity including natural enemies to pests and pollinators for two main reasons. Organic farming prohibits the use of harmful synthetic pesticides that are known to be toxic to bees, birds, and other wildlife. Also, organic farming is generally more diversified with habitat that is beneficial to all types of wildlife.

Organic Livestock and climate change

What animals eat, how their feed is produced, where they are housed, and how their waste is managed all influence the impact on greenhouse gas emissions and the potential for contributing to or mitigating climate change. The National Organic Program requires ruminant livestock to spend more time in the pasture than conventional animals on high-density feedlots, and when they aren’t on pasture, they are required to eat a 100% organically produced diet. More time on pasture can help mitigate climate change, because pasturing ruminant animals helps store carbon in the soil, and growing feed without the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is key in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. Some studies on organically raised animals have looked at this directly: a study out of Germany found that organic dairy cow rearing has fewer environmental impacts by using less energy and reducing nutrient runoff. While this study focused on dairy cows rather than beef cattle, the principals are similar.

Managed grazing sequesters carbon

Organically managed ruminant livestock are pasture-raised during the grazing season. Managed grazing is important for climate change, because well-managed pastures can improve soil quality and store carbon, which would otherwise contribute to climate change as CO2 in our atmosphere. This is especially true when livestock are incorporated into organic crop rotations, because the manure from animals can reduce reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, which is energy intensive to produce and releases CO2 into the atmosphere.

Organic meat production uses less energy-intensive inputs

Organic pastures grow year after year without the use of synthetic inputs like nitrogenous fertilizer. The benefits of organic pasture are especially clear when you compare them to conventional concentrated animal feeding operations that rely on conventional corn and soy, which use a lot of energy-intensive synthetic nitrogen.

Livestock production that relies less on grain-based feed and more on pasture, has the potential to use less energy and emit fewer greenhouse gases, according to the German dairy study mentioned above. Organic livestock are required to spend time outdoors and organic ruminants (e.g. cows and sheep) require a minimum of 120 days on pasture. On the other hand, there are no minimum requirements for non-organic production. Additionally, organic grains used for feed in organic meat production don’t use energy-intensive synthetic nitrogen.  Instead, they rely on nitrogen-fixing cover crops, and recycle waste from other production operations in the form of manure and compost. Since organic grain production does not use synthetic fertilizer, it removes a large emission element from organic meat operations.