Video Written, Produced, Filmed, and Edited by Sierra Glassman

Here at Jacobson Family Farms, you’ll find happy, pasture-raised cows. Our quality beef is farm-fresh, humanely-raised, and FACTA Animal-welfare approved. Through sustainable agriculture, we will bring generations of experience to your table.

What if I told you this could be the Jacobson Family farm? (pictures of feedlots crowded with thousands of cattle on filthy, bare dirt)

86% of shoppers said that they purchased food with labels like “cage free,” “humane,” “free-range,” “grass-fed,” “natural,” and “farm raised” mostly because they thought the label indicated high animal welfare. And, many of them are willing to pay more for higher welfare products in general. However, many animal product labels have nothing to do with welfare or are misleading or outright lies. For example, it is a standard practice that meat chickens aren’t kept in cages. And, chickens that produce free-range eggs just have to be allowed outside at some point in their lives, not continuously.

In the case of Jacobson Family Farms, all except two of the labels I used require no certification. Pasture-raised cows only have to spend a non-specified amount of time in a pasture. They could just be born on one and then carted off to a feedlot. Farm-fresh and sustainable agriculture have no specifications or regulations. Humanely-raised means that the farm has to meet just the standards that it sets itself. And, FACTA approval is a paid-for audit in which companies either just have to follow their own animal welfare standards that they set or follow standard industry practice, which is factory farming. 

A lot of labels are vague and poorly defined. Other labels just need farms to hand over a little cash.

But, what if Jacobson Family Farms was actually making true claims? In fact, they’re your next-door neighbors and you see the cows grazing in green fields right outside your window. Calves cavort beside their mothers, and all of them seem happy while adding beauty to the landscape. Isn’t eating local, humane, free-range meat the kindest food option?

Unfortunately, many grass-fed cows still go to the same slaughterhouses as factory farmed cows, enduring the same fear and suffering that is general practice. Also, buying local animal products doesn’t make a tangible difference in the environmental front. By substituting less than one day per week of calories from beef and dairy to a plant-based alternative, you can reduce your emissions more than buying all your food locally. And, transport is less than 1% of beefs greenhouse gas emissions! Data indicates that free-range systems have an even worse environmental impact than factory farms as well.

Let’s say that America’s food system switched to all free-range. Currently, 98% of all domestic animals in the US are in factory fams, but already nearly a third of America’s land is used for livestock. The US is home to around 95 million cows, and shifting just cattle to a grass-fed life would require 250 million additional acres of land. That’s the area of Montana, Utah, and California combined! Even if everyone ate as Americans do with 98% of animal products coming from factory farms, it would take 1.37 earth’s to feed everyone. That’s the entire surface of the Earth plus another 37/100 of an Earth-sized planet just to grow food! It’s obviously unfeasible to keep consuming beef and other animal products at our current rate through a purely grass-fed system. Expansion of the grass-fed cattle system would also entail a drastic increase in greenhouse gas emissions, as grass fed cows produce up to four times more methane than grain-fed cows.

So, it seems like we can conclude that free-range does not mean free of large environmental impacts. But, what about fruits shipped across oceans out of season? Aren’t those even worse than local, free-range meat?

Local plant foods are tangibly better than transported plant foods. But, it also depends on where you live and the season. For example, if you live in Sweeden and buy local tomatoes in the winter, it takes 10 times more energy than buying imported tomatoes. While ship-freighted plant foods are pretty efficient, some plant foods are often air-freighted. Commonly air freighted goods include asparagus, green beans, and berries. If you instead buy these products from ship-freighted sources you could reduce emissions 50-fold. So, just eating local and ship-freighted plant foods is way better than eating animals from the farmers next door. 

Factory farming is unethical and wrecks the environment. And, buying local, free-range animal products still entails cruel practices while taking up more land and not really reducing your footprint. It seems like you just can’t win. But, there’s a simple solution to this carnivore’s dilemma—just eat plants.

Sierra Glassman is a recent high school graduate and Eat for the Earth summer 2022 intern. She has a passion for birds and has been accepted into UC Berkeley to study integrative biology and just started this Fall, 2022. She is spending her summer creating an educational video series for Eat for the Earth’s YouTube channel. During her brief time with the organization, she has researched and written three grants, had one approved (so far), created a plan for the series and an ad campaign. This is the fourth video in the series.

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