The health of livestock, humans, and environments is tied to plant diversity—and associated phytochemical richness—across landscapes.
Health is enhanced when livestock forage on phytochemically rich landscapes, is reduced when livestock forage on simple mixture or monoculture pastures or consume high-grain rations in feedlots, and is greatly reduced for people who eat highly processed diets.
Circumstantial evidence supports the hypothesis that phytochemical richness of herbivore diets enhances biochemical richness of meat and dairy, which is linked with human and environmental health. Among many roles they play in health, phytochemicals in herbivore diets protect meat and dairy from protein oxidation and lipid peroxidation that cause low-grade systemic inflammation implicated in heart disease and cancer in humans.
Yet, epidemiological and ecological studies critical of red meat consumption do not discriminate among meats from livestock fed high-grain rations as opposed to livestock foraging on landscapes of increasing phytochemical richness. The global shift away from phytochemically and biochemically rich wholesome foods to highly processed diets enabled 2.1 billion people to become overweight or obese and increased the incidence of type II diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Unimpeded, these trends will add to a projected substantial increase in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) from producing food and clearing land by 2050.
While agriculture contributes one quarter of GHGE, livestock can play a sizable role in climate mitigation. Of 80 ways to alleviate climate change, regenerative agriculture—managed grazing, silvopasture, tree intercropping, conservation agriculture, and farmland restoration—jointly rank number one as ways to sequester GHG. Mitigating the impacts of people in the Anthropocene can be enabled through diet to improve human and environmental health, but that will require profound changes in society.
People will have to learn we are members of nature's communities. What we do to them, we do to ourselves. Only by nurturing them can we nurture ourselves.