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Regenerative agriculture: to meat or not to meat?

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By Alfred Oliveri, Diego Balverde

· 5 min read

"It's an imitation of what nature already does. You never see a single crop in nature; instead, you witness a great diversity. That's a compelling reason to embrace this concept."

Regenerative agriculture (RA) is a farming approach that prioritizes soil health. To understand it better, let's start by picturing a typical farm: often, it consists of hundreds of acres dedicated to a single crop like corn or cotton. This may seem conventional or even correct, but it isn't.

A regenerative farm is the polar opposite of a conventional one. Instead of a monoculture, envision multiple crops strategically planted to support each other's growth and vitality. For example, on a cotton farm, you might find rows of peas serving as "cover crops" to provide shade, maintain soil temperature, enhance water retention, and promote microbiome development. These farms also incorporate "pollinator strips" to attract bees and butterflies, along with "trap crops" to divert pests, avoiding the need for chemical pesticides.

The conventional use of heavy machinery, fertilizers, and pesticides to maximize food production has contributed to soil degradation and loss. According to Regeneration International, if this trend continues, there may not be enough fertile soil to feed the world within the next 50 years.

Current mistakes

Intensive agriculture disturbs naturally stored CO2 in the soil, releasing it into the atmosphere, thereby contributing to global warming and climate change. Agriculture, as per the United Nations (UN), accounts for over a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Damaged soil and eroded land make environments more vulnerable to extreme weather events, such as increased flooding, which becomes more frequent and intense with global warming.

The solutions

Regenerative methods involve reducing soil tillage, which keeps carbon in the soil, improves water absorption, and preserves essential fungal communities. Crop rotation diversifies the types of crops planted, enhancing biodiversity. The use of animal manure and compost helps replenish nutrients in the soil. To prevent soil degradation from continual grazing, regenerative agriculture methods involve rotating grazing animals to different pastures.


Regenerative agriculture has made significant strides, and if widely adopted, it could have a profound impact on the planet. Project Drawdown suggests that annual regenerative farming could reduce or sequester between 14.5 and 22 gigatons of CO2 by 2050, effectively mitigating climate change. Importantly, research indicates that regenerative agriculture has the potential to reverse climate change (Kastner, 2016) and could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions through widespread, affordable organic management practices (Rodale Institute, 2014).

While we often hear about reducing carbon emissions and new carbon capture technologies, returning the Earth to its natural and fertile state could address global warming on its own. Soil has lost 139 billion tons of CO2e due to practices like tillage, overgrazing, and urban sprawl. Available land could absorb all the carbon in our atmosphere, totaling 109 billion tons.

The agricultural challenge

Agriculture is entwined with various global challenges, from famine to deforestation, and has the potential to become the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter worldwide after the energy sector. However, it can be transformed from being merely a "hope" to a "solution," effectively achieving a net-zero impact on the environment.

Smart measures

Regenerative agriculture methods prioritize farmers as agents of change. These methods provide a logical, simple, and intelligent transition with the potential to enhance crop yields while converting cropland and pastures into carbon sinks. This approach can reverse deforestation and optimize the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers. It necessitates rethinking global and local supply chains for greater sustainability and reduced waste in logistics.

The topic of the moment

A recent World Economic Forum paper, "Transforming Food Systems with Farmers," suggests that Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions could be immediately reduced by 6% per year. With just a fifth of EU farmers transitioning to net-zero emissions, soil health could improve, and revenues could increase by €2-9 billion. 


What sets regenerative agriculture apart from mere sustainability is its aspiration to exceed expectations. Rather than merely repairing environmental damage, it seeks to make improvements for the collective benefit, potentially yielding greater productivity and economic gains. While it necessitates investment and a shift in mindset among producers, it's an attainable transformation that can lead to positive changes.

The success and evolution of anti-meat consumption campaigns can be influenced by various factors, including changes in breeding and farming practices. If more humane and sustainable methods are adopted in meat production, it could impact the campaign in several ways:

Reduced ethical concerns

Anti-meat consumption campaigns often highlight the ethical concerns related to factory farming, feedlots, and other intensive breeding methods. If the industry shifts towards more humane and ethical practices, it may reduce the moral objections that underpin these campaigns. This could lead to a change in the campaign's focus, potentially shifting towards other issues in the meat industry or promoting more sustainable practices. 

Environmental considerations

Some anti-meat campaigns emphasize the environmental impact of meat production, including greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and water usage. Sustainable farming methods can reduce these environmental harms. As a result, campaigns may adapt to highlight different aspects of meat production that still have significant environmental consequences.

Health and nutrition

Anti-meat consumption campaigns often touch on the health concerns associated with consuming certain meats. If breeding and farming practices change to produce healthier meat options, this might affect the health-related arguments of such campaigns. Campaigns might need to evolve to address different health considerations or advocate for more balanced diets.

Market dynamics

Changing breeding and farming practices can also influence market dynamics. For example, if alternative meat products (like plant-based or lab-grown meat) become more widely available and compete with traditional meat, this may alter the landscape of anti-meat consumption campaigns. The focus could shift towards promoting these alternatives as more ethical, sustainable, or healthier choices. 

Consumer attitudes

The success of anti-meat consumption campaigns is closely tied to consumer attitudes and behaviors. If consumers increasingly support and choose products from farms with better practices, the campaigns might need to adapt to reflect changing consumer preferences. Campaigns could focus on encouraging these positive shifts.

Policy and regulation

Changes in breeding and farming practices may also lead to shifts in government policies and regulations. This could impact the strategies and objectives of anti-meat consumption campaigns. They might focus on advocating for or against specific regulations or standards within the meat industry.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the authors

Alfred Olivieri is the Founder of House of Chef, a network sharing the love of cooking around the world. He has a background in theatre and entertainment.

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Dr. Diego Balverde is an economist with experience in climate finance. Diego is very active on the international sustainability stage having attended COP27 as a circular economy for climate change specialist and will also be attending the G20 Conference in India. 

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