Allan Savory Debunked: claims for cattle grazing refuted.

Page Summary: Collection of reports and clips that debunk and refute Allan Savory’s claims about so-called ‘holistic management’ and ‘regenerative’ cattle grazing being good for the environment.

This page contains excerpts and links to reports on the websites of New Scientist, International Journal of Biodiversity, Slate, SierraClub, SeedTheCommonsFreeFromHarm and clips on youtube.

~ ~ ~

From a 2014 report in the International Journal of Biodiversity, the abstract states: “Over 3 billion hectares of lands worldwide are grazed by livestock, with a majority suffering degradation in ecological condition. Losses in plant productivity, biodiversity of plant and animal communities, and carbon storage are occurring as a result of livestock grazing.
Holistic management (HM) has been proposed as a means of restoring degraded deserts and grasslands and reversing climate change. The fundamental approach of this system is based on frequently rotating livestock herds to mimic native ungulates reacting to predators in order to break up biological soil crusts and trample plants and soils to promote restoration.
This review could find no peer-reviewed studies that show that this management approach is superior to conventional grazing systems in outcomes.
Any claims of success due to HM are likely due to the management aspects of goal setting, monitoring, and adapting to meet goals, not the ecological principles embodied in HM.
Ecologically, the application of HM principles of trampling and intensive foraging are as detrimental to plants, soils, water storage, and plant productivity as are conventional grazing systems.
Contrary to claims made that HM will reverse climate change, the scientific evidence is that global greenhouse gas emissions are vastly larger than the capacity of worldwide grasslands and deserts to store the carbon emitted each year
.”

From the body of the report: “Nearly all of the support and confirmation for HM come from articles developed at the Savory Institute or testimonials by practitioners. Most of the published literature that attempts to rigorously test HM in any scientific fashion does not support its principal assumptions …
Leading range scientists have refuted the system and indicated that its adoption by land management agencies is based on these anecdotes and unproven principles rather than scientific evidence …
Various studies indicate livestock grazing reduces biodiversity of native species and degrades riparian areas, with nearly all studies finding livestock exclusion to be the most effective, reliable means to restore degraded riparian areas. Claims of the benefits of HM or other grazing systems should be validated by quantitative, scientifically valid studies.”

Reference: “Holistic Management: Misinformation on the Science of Grazed Ecosystems”, International Journal of Biodiversity”, Volume 2014, Article ID 163431; https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijbd/2014/163431/

~ ~ ~

“Allan Savory’s 5 Big Lies – Debunked – Part 1” – short clip on Youtube. Description: “Livestock to save the world… What does the science actually say about Allan Savory’s methods? In this video we look behind the glamorous ‘before and after’ shots in the TED talk.” At https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EDpuQMpyYw

See further below for the video clip of Part 2.

~ ~ ~

A 2017 report on the SierraClub website debunks Allan Savory’s arguments for intensive grazing of cattle. Title: “Allan Savory’s Holistic Management Theory Falls Short on Science.

Some excerpts: “In his TED Talk, Savory claimed that by deploying his method of “holistic management and planned grazing” to “take back” just half of the planet’s arid grasslands, humanity could accomplish a stunning feat: the reduction of atmospheric carbon to preindustrial levels … The audience erupted with cheering and whistling …
After Savory’s breakout performance, the attention and the accolades kept coming …

Experimental validation, of course, offers the best process for evaluating whether holistic management works. But Savory rejects that possibility 
On the Savory Institute’s website, there are links to ample testimonials from ranchers … But the tales of success are self-reported and anecdotal. When scientists have conducted the rigorous evaluation suggested by the University of Natal researchers, the results have not been favorable …
In 1969, the Charter Estate, a London-based company, donated land, funding, and cattle to conduct a seven-year study of Savory’s “short-duration grazing” on 6,200 acres in Zimbabwe …
But a 2002 review of the Charter Trials concluded that the Savory grazing method “failed to produce the marked improvement in grass cover claimed from its application.” The study’s authors found “no definite evidence in the African studies that short-duration grazing . . . will accelerate plant succession.”
The re-greening from cattle didn’t happen …

Since that initial study was conducted, Savory has faced a new wave of scrutiny. A group of United States-based rangeland scientists, led by David Briske, a professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management at Texas A&M University, stated flatly that the Savory method “cannot green deserts or reverse climate change.” Savory’s claims “are not only unsupported by scientific information, but they are often in direct conflict with it.” Briske’s study, published in the journal of the Society for Range Management in 2013, concluded: “We find all of Mr. Savory’s major claims to be unfounded.” …
The Briske team found that Savory misrepresented the photos of landscapes he presents as evidence of the alleged desertifying effect of removing cattle. One of the photo series he often uses features Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. But the land, the Briske report said, was not desertified from lack of cattle. Instead, the landscape was slowly recovering from decades of abusive overgrazing
Andres Cibils, a professor of range science at New Mexico State University, looked at Savory’s claims of rangeland regeneration in Patagonia, among the highlights of the TED Talk. “In the case of Patagonia,” Cibils told me, “there are no credible data to support Savory’s success assertions.” …
Briske and his colleagues looked at Savory’s assertion that revitalized rangelands could help reduce atmospheric carbon to preindustrial levels. This would be a 30 percent drop, from 400 parts per million of CO2 to 280 PPM. The idea, the researchers concluded, is fantastical, amounting to “an enormous misrepresentation of the global carbon cycle and climate change science.” …
According to some researchers, Savory appears to misunderstand the intricate processes of soil carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling … he gives no specifics in his TED Talk. And no data. He makes claims, and shows pictures …

In Savory’s universe, ungrazed land, known as “rested” land, will always wither away. “It’s just wrong,” said Brewer. A substantial number of studies on desert grassland have found that with rest, grass cover “increases dramatically,” while “intensive grazing delays this recovery.”
In contrast to Savory’s assertions: “A study of grasslands in China found that 20 years of grazing exclusion increased soil carbon storage by more than 35 percent. Another study there of semiarid grasslands reported that carbon levels, variously measured in aboveground biomass, belowground biomass, and grass litter, were as much as 157 percent higher in livestock-free grasslands than in grazed grasslands. In Australia, researchers concluded that destocking shrublands for a period of 20 years resulted in net carbon sequestration …
Rest from grazing, contrary to Savory’s claims, did not result in desertification. Instead, minimal grazing and then a complete respite from cattle produced a healthy, self-sustaining ecosystem

When I met with Savory last fall … The counterevidence I had been referencing says this … Cattle have been implicated in the eradication of native plants, the loss of biodiversity, the pollution of springs and streams, the erosion of stream banks, the exacerbation of floods that carry away soil, the deforestation of hardwoods, and, in the worst cases, a reduction of living soil to lifeless dust …”

For the full article see https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2017-2-march-april/feature/allan-savory-says-more-cows-land-will-reverse-climate-change

A related 2017 article: “Don’t Believe Allan Savory’s Hype: Cows Will Not Save the Planet. Sierra magazine editor Jason Mark is skeptical about grazing guru Allan Savory.”
Excerpt: “There’s just one major problem with Savory’s pitch: It doesn’t pass the sniff test … Grasslands experts and agroecologists are baffled by many of his notions. “We find all of Mr. Savory’s major claims to be unfounded,” a 2013 report in the journal of the Society for Range Management concluded.”
at https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2017-2-march-april/editor/dont-believe-allan-savorys-hype-cows-will-not-save-planet

~ ~ ~

“Allan Savory’s 5 Big Lies – Debunked – Part 2” – short clip on Youtube.
At https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5BqDyDrj8E

See further above for video part 1.

~ ~ ~

A 2013 article by Professor James McWilliams on Slate: “Why Allan Savory’s TED talk about how cattle can reverse global warming is dead wrong.”

Excerpts: “a comprehensive review of Savory’s trial and other similar trials, published in 2002, found that Savory’s signature high-stocking density and rapid-fire rotation plan did not lead to a perfectly choreographed symbiosis between grass and beast 
Instead, there were problems during the Charter Grazing Trials, ones not mentioned in Savory’s dramatic talk … the authors contend that Savory’s method “failed to produce the marked improvement in grass cover claimed from its application.”

The authors of the overview concluded exactly what mainstream ecologists have been concluding for 40 years: “No grazing system has yet shown the capacity to overcome the long-term effects of overstocking and/or drought on vegetation productivity.” …

The extension of Savory’s grazing techniques to other regions of Africa and North America has produced even less encouraging results … intensive systems marked by the constant rotation of densely packed herds of cattle led to a decline in animal productivity while doing nothing to notably improve botanical growth.
A 2000 evaluation of Savory’s methods in North America (mostly on prairie rangelands in Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico) contradicted Savory’s conclusions as well …
Likewise, whereas Savory insists that his methods will revive grasses, “the most complete study in North America” on the impact of holistic management on prairie grass found “a definite decline” of plant growth on mixed prairie and rough fescue areas … Further weakening Savory’s argument for the wholesale application of holistic management to the world’s deserts is his distorted view of desert ecology …

Savory’s most compelling and controversial assumption—one that’s absolutely central to his method—is that humans can viably “mimic” (a word he uses about a dozen times in the TED talk) “all of nature’s complexity.” This is a stunning claim. The conceit of mimicry as a virtue of Savory’s technique is challenged in part by the fact that not all deserts rely on the presence of herd animals for their ecological health … Understandably, given his adherence to scientifically questionable conclusions in the face of evidence to the contrary, scientific institutions have not gone out of their way to work with Allan Savory … ”

Full article at http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2013/04/allan_savory_s_ted_talk_is_wrong_and_the_benefits_of_holistic_grazing_have.html

~ ~ ~

A 2013 refutation of Allan Savory,  by Dr Richard Oppenlander, is titled: “Saving the World With Livestock? The Allan Savory Approach Examined.”

Some excerpts: “We are cutting down forests at a rate of 30 million acres per year, globally. Another 20 to 30 million acres of forests are being degraded… These deforested areas are eventually converted to grasslands for cattle or for cultivating crops to feed livestock …
The problem at hand is that we eat meat. Eating meat causes demand to raise more livestock, which is a miserably inefficient use of land as well as other natural resources, requiring from two to twenty acres to support just one cow. Therefore, in the pursuit for more land, raising livestock causes deforestation.
Deforestation then causes erosion and topsoil loss, which then causes desertification. If we stopped deforestation, we would stop desertification. If we stopped eating meat, we would stop deforestation as well as loss of ancient grasslands.

Savory provided the audience with examples of restored land using his livestock and grazing techniques in Africa, Argentina, and Mexico. Argentina, though, has lost over 66 percent of all its forests over the past seventy-five years, with current deforestation rates at 210,000 acres per year. Over 40 percent of all plant and animal species are negatively impacted in that country. Zimbabwe, where most of Savory’s studies have been conducted, is destroying their forests at rate of 1 percent per year, which doesn’t sound impressive, but they have already lost more than 85 percent of their original forests, primarily due to raising livestock. Desertification is occurring as a by-product of this deforestation as well as combined with subsequent pastoral herding. Savory states the cause of desertification is somewhat a “mystery.” But the primary cause is due to grazing livestock. It is no mystery…

Savory argues that many desertified areas of the world can only be used to grow animals, not plants, to feed people … It would make more sense to optimize sustainability by producing a type of food that is the most efficient to grow — least water usage, no GHG emissions, least land needed, and healthiest for humans to consume. When compared to plants, raising livestock seems illogical. Wherever pasture can grow or be restored to feed livestock, other plants could be grown as well — to be eaten directly by humans

And then there is the problem with loss of biodiversity. Savory has not addressed how he plans to restore loss of the ecosystems and plants, animals, and insects that were originally present before livestock ruined the landscape …

Many desertified areas, including those in semi-arid regions would be much healthier and more productive if restored in a resource- efficient manner with indigenous drought-resistant plants, agroforestry, implementing terracing and other organic methods, or plant-generated microbiological measures, rather than with livestock. One of these measures is the reintroduction in desertified land of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus (AMF) and various plants, such as legumes, which then form a highly evolved mutualistic relationship. This is one of many complex symbiotic interactions lost when cattle are introduced to an area …

Wherever Savory speaks, he conveniently fails to mention that deforestation and degradation of tropical forests and subsequent transformation to pasture are the primary global reasons for initializing erosion, decreasing soil fertility, and eventual desertification and heavy contribution to climate change. Prevention, therefore, is key, not acting in a retrospective manner with concepts that confuse industries, agriculturalists, and consumers.

If “mimicking nature” is what he desires, then Savory should consider reintroducing the 10 million acres of forests lost each year in Africa (part of the 4.5 billion total acres lost globally over the past few hundred years), primarily due to the introduction of livestock. He should add the correct number and density of wildebeests and other grazing mammals that were lost due to deforestation — add the 140,000 lions, leopards, and other predators back into the equation and all other wildlife and biodiversity that has been destroyed over the years by human activities — that would “mimic nature” …

Questioning motives — a background check on Savory

From 1955, when he served as game ranger/officer in Northern and Luapula provinces of Rhodesia (now Zambia), through 1969, Savory supervised the killing of game animals and advocated the mass culling of elephants and hippos, convinced that they were destroying the habitat. Savory was also a farmer, game rancher, consultant, officer in the Game Department, and politician based in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). As such, he called for a project to slaughter more than 40,000 elephants — until it came under heavy criticism when officials realized that these gentle, innocent giants were not the problem. While Savory was arguing for a calculated slaughtering of animals, others, such as Lawton and Gough, were suggesting that elephants were not the problem at all. Rather, it was the repeated burning or human-induced fires in the dry season (from slash- and-burn/swidden agricultural methods) that might be the real reason for desertification. At the time, R. M. Lawton was an ecologist with the Land Resources Division of the British Directorate of Overseas Surveys, and Mrs. Gough was a skilled observer of animal behavior in Zambia.

There is the question of motives behind Savory’s advocacy for increasing cattle and livestock production. He states that he loves elephants, yet slaughters them. He loves wildlife yet kills them

Savory’s holistic management or “mimicking nature” philosophy appears to be merely a facade of many sorts, since his operation and overriding objectives are in full support of increasing the meat and dairy industries. This is evidenced by his stated philosophy, which is supported by every program with which he’s been involved in the U.S. and developing countries over the years. His leading team members (Director of Research and all co-founders of the Savory Institute) are derived entirely from the meat and dairy industry. Most of them own and continue to operate very large cattle and other livestock ranches for the purpose of slaughtering, selling, and eating meat, not necessarily to improve their own grasslands …”

Full report at: http://freefromharm.org/agriculture-environment/saving-the-world-with-livestock-the-allan-savory-approach-examined/

~ ~ ~

A 2017 report in New Scientist is titled “Grass-fed Beef is Bad for the Planet and Causes Climate Change.”
Some excerpts: “New calculations suggest cattle pastures contribute to climate change The truth is, we cannot eat as much meat as we like and save the planet
A key problem is that microorganisms in the guts of cattle emit millions of tonnes of methane every year. A typical cow releases 100 kilograms of methane a year and the world has about a billion of them. Since methane is a greenhouse gas, this exacerbates global warming.
Meanwhile, feeding the beasts destroys forests by taking land for pasture or to grow feed – and this deforestation also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions 
Doing the Sums … Garnett and her colleagues [at the University of Oxford’s Food Climate Research Network] calculated the flow of greenhouse gases into and out of pastures…
Her findings are published in a report, Grazed and Confused?
The analysis is more comprehensive than past studies, says Tim Benton at the University of Leeds, UK. “It asks, if we are to eat meat, is there a better way to grow it? The answer is: not really.” …
Many cattle, especially in the tropics, graze on former forest land. In places such as the Brazilian Amazon, clearing trees for cattle causes massive greenhouse gas emissions…
Garnett’s conclusion is supported by a study published on 29 September, which found that methane emissions from cattle are 11 per cent larger than older methods would suggest, and thus a bigger contributor to global warming 
“We need to reduce emissions from livestock,” says Benton. “That needs to come from dietary change.”
Article at https://www.newscientist.com/article/2149220-grass-fed-beef-is-bad-for-the-planet-and-causes-climate-change/

The “Grazed and Confused” report can be obtained via the Food and Climate Research Network (FCRN) here: https://www.fcrn.org.uk/projects/grazed-and-confused

~ ~ ~

You can find dozens more reports like that in regards to the contribution of animal agriculture to climate change via that link. 

~ ~ ~

A 2018 report titled: “A CALL TO COUNTER THE FALSE SOLUTION OF REGENERATIVE GRAZING” by Nassim Nobari.

Excerpts: “Advocates of regenerative agriculture contend that holistic, “well-managed” grazing is central to restoring ecosystems, fighting desertification and climate change, and building sustainable food systems …
Proponents of regenerative agriculture misrepresent vegans as advocating for ecosystems without animals. They posit that animals fulfill integral functions in their ecosystems and that without them, an ecosystem can only be unhealthy and an agricultural system can only be unsustainable. Nobody is disagreeing with them, but we don’t need to commodify animals for animal life to be present.
In fact, grazing in California is wiping out the diversity of animal life to make way for a few species we have decided to subjugate and profit off of.
In the United States, farm animals are exotic species that were introduced by settlers and that have been in conflict with native wildlife since the beginning of colonization. The native Tule elk and bison could be fulfilling their ecological roles as ruminants, instead they continue to die off and to be killed because ranchers are given preferential access to land and tax dollars. Apparently all the talk of needing ruminants to build soil is less appealing when we can’t line our pockets with them …

The majority of animal products come from large-scale farms. If animals aren’t in factory farms or CAFOs (controlled animal feeding operations), then they are grazing. People think this is better – the ideas of grass-fed and free-range are very popular – but what is happening is that farmers are stealing the land from the wildlife to use for cows and whomever else they’re grazing.

This often requires killing wild animals through trapping, shooting or ‘aerial gunning’, poisoning and many other ways. These animals are exterminated so we can use the land to graze food animals. Wild horses are also rounded up; there are many places in the U.S. where wild horses live on the land and they just round them up and corral them so the land can be used to raise cows …
In the Bay Area, organic dairy farming has caused the deaths of native Tule elk due to fencing and competition over water and forage, yet dairy farms continue to successfully market themselves as stewards of the land.

It is often acknowledged that cows are not native; the argument goes that roaming bison used to fulfill key ecological functions in the grasslands and that since they’ve – sadly – disappeared, cows are our next best bet. What’s not usually acknowledged is that large herbivores, including the native bison, continue to be systematically massacred and deprived of their habitat to make way for cows. On the yearly bison cull that takes place in Yellowstone Park, Stephany Seay of the Buffalo Field Campaign says “Montana livestock interests are in control of the state legislature, and they are anti-buffalo. They always cry that it’s about brucellosis, but not even brucellosis-free bison are welcome anywhere. This is a war about grass and who gets to eat it.”

Even if large ruminants or herbivores were indeed absent and necessary to a given region, why can’t we imagine bringing animals into nature without commodifying them, micromanaging their whole existence and cutting short their natural lifespan? It is also curious that, when it comes to animals, the problems caused by the near-extinction of native species are to be solved by bringing in more of the invasive species.
This is the opposite strategy that we have with plants.
I often witness the care that conservationists apply to the restoration of native habitats: native species are replanted, areas are fenced off and invasive plants are diligently removed or even sprayed with pesticide, one by one, to give native plants a better chance. Cows are responsible for the loss of food sources and habitat of native animals–and somehow more cows are the solution?

Ranchers did not save the land when they first arrived in California and they are not saving it now. The false dichotomy between veganism and sustainable agriculture serves to protect a culture of carnism but it also harms the environment, as the environmental movement fails to consider the potential benefits of shifting to plant-based ecological farming systems. Domesticated animals are not a necessary component of ecological farming and doing without them would help protect biodiversity, save water and land, decrease greenhouse gas emissions and still build soil to sequester carbon …”

The full article is at https://seedthecommons.org/a-call-to-counter-the-false-solution-of-regenerative-grazing/

~ ~ ~

A 2019 article is titled: “Is “regenerative grazing” the new “clean coal”?”
The introduction states: “The term “regenerative grazing” has become prominent in recent times. The development may indicate that relevant livestock sector participants have increased their PR efforts in response to extensive criticism of the sector’s devastating environmental record.
Proponents appear to have characteristics in common with those who promote so-called “clean coal”.
Firstly, the claimed benefits appear to be greatly exaggerated, with inadequate consideration of the negative consequences.
Secondly, proponents generally come from within the sector.
Finally, like many who promote fossil fuel use generally, proponents of so-called “regenerative grazing” tend to demean peer-reviewed science to the extent that it does not support their position.
This article comments on three who are promoting such methods and presents material that challenges their position
Allan Savory: Placing “regenerative grazing” in the spotlight …
Charles Massy: Sheep farmer and author supporting animal agriculture …
Paul Hawken and Drawdown: Excessively relying on animals …”
Article at https://planetaryvegan.net/2019/02/27/is-regenerative-grazing-the-new-clean-coal/

~ ~ ~

For a collection of further articles see this page: “Myth: Livestock grazing, when done right, is beneficial and necessary” at https://www.truthordrought.com/holistic-grazing-myths

~ ~ ~

Dear search engine users, for debunk-rebuttals-refutations of these articles listed below see the information further above on this page:

Debunked: “Can livestock restore drought-stricken grasslands?” story by Judith Schwartz, April 12, 2016 at thefern(dot)org.
Excerpts: “Inside a seven-year effort in Zimbabwe to renew a landscape beset by desertification — bringing a village back from the brink and allowing people to feed themselves again … The model that was applied in Sianyanga is called Holistic Planned Grazing, and it was developed by Allan Savory, co-founder of the Africa Centre for Holistic Management in Zimbabwe …” See further above on this page for articles that debunk the points made.

~ ~ ~

To return to this site’s Home Page.