Meet Andrew Gunther, executive director of A Greener World (AGW), a non-profit organization that promotes and supports ultra-sustainable livestock farming and the force behind AGW’s Animal Welfare Approved, the "gold standard" certification for pastured meat. Andrew gave us the scoop on the buzz around regenerative farming and how hogs (ie, your bacon) can be part of a healthy system.
Applegate: “Regenerative” is the big buzzword in agriculture. What does it—or should it—mean?
Andrew: At the most basic level regenerative should mean that all parts of the farming system are improved or maintained at the optimum level. Here is our definition from the Certified Regenerative by AGW standards:
Regenerative agriculture is a set of planned agricultural practices that ensure the holding is not depleted by agriculture practices, and over time the soil, water, air and biodiversity are improved or maintained to the greatest extent possible.
From our perspective the most important thing about the term is that it be defined, audited and certified; otherwise it won’t carry weight for consumers or policymakers.
Applegate: Can hogs be regenerative? (Mostly we hear about cattle.)
Andrew: Hogs aren’t the easiest choice for regenerative farming but it’s possible! And it’s going to be necessary to find ways to raise pigs regeneratively because pigs eat things that people can’t and if the pigs don’t eat it, it goes to waste.
The main consideration in whether pigs can be truly regenerative is the energy in vs. energy out balance of a given system. And you have to look at the whole system. You can’t just look at the farm where the animals live. You need to consider whether a hog is eating soy or corn from deforested land thousands of miles away. (In contrast, cows eating the grass in their pasture is a pretty simple calculation.) We have farms pursuing regenerative certification for hogs where they have full traceability; they may be partnering with neighboring grain-growers or using fruit pulp from a local processor. Regenerative pork is possible but it takes a system-wide approach.
Applegate: How can we help pasture-based and aspiring regenerative farmers?
Andrew: We have been certifying pasture-based farms—a crucial part of regenerative—for years. You can find and support those farms here. We are also launching and growing a Certified Regenerative by AGW pilot with 43 farms across the world. Having a high-integrity market for regenerative products will make sure that this is not just a passing trend but a viable solution.