Front cover of Farmageddon, published by Bloomsbury.
Farmageddon - the true cost of cheap meat
5th February 2015
So just how serious is the impact of industrial farming? Worse than you could ever imagine, writes organic farmer Julian Rose in this review of 'Farmageddon - the Real Price of Cheap Food', which lifts the lid on the industry's human and ecological devastation, and the systematic cruelty inflicted on the animals that feed us.
... a grounded, undiluted account of the machinations of the global food industry and its devastating affect on the lives of millions of sentient beings, including ourselves.
Whatever happened that led a great part of humankind to give the animal kingdom such a lowly status in the overall evolutionary pattern of life on Earth?
How is it that we have subjected millions and millions of our animal cousins to concentration camp conditions so utterly abhorrent that to call their brief time on the planet 'living' would constitute a serious misnomer?
One of the critical factors that drove me to develop a mixed organic farming system back in the mid 1970's, was to give the cows, pigs, sheep and hens that formed the basis of my farming enterprise, the chance to grow up in a setting designed to replicate as closely as possible the conditions that these creatures would experience in their native environment.
It is important to recognise that farming is an enclosed agricultural system which has built-in compromises deemed necessary for the controlled raising of both livestock and crops. Within this context we have to be aware that the word 'natural' does not accurately describe this scenario, even when the best and most humane principles and methods are applied.
However, those who embark upon an organic farming management practice commit to a set of standards that places strong emphasis on animal welfare as well as forming a close affinity with the soil and the cyclic patterns of nature that underlie rotational, non chemical farming practices.
Under such a system the farmer has the chance to develop a strong affinity with nature and a deep respect for the animals and plants under his or her care. But unfortunately, the great majority of people living in post industrial Westernised societies ingest a daily diet that has little or nothing to do with such a caring approach.
On the contrary, the majority of individuals negotiating their way through 21st century urban and suburban life styles demand cheap, uniform foods that, in order to fulfil the consumers' supermarket groomed expectations, are grown according to methods that are about as different from 'natural' as plastic is to wood.
Enter the factory farm ...
Philip Lymbery and Isobel Oakshot, in their book 'Farmageddon - the True Cost Cheap Meat' have gone to great lengths to raise awareness of just how devious and deceptive is the globalised 'cheap food' conveyor belt that churns out the Western World's daily diet.
Philip Lymbery is the director of Compassion in World Farming, a remarkable farmer pioneered organisation formed in 1967 which now has worldwide offices and an equally eclectic swelling membership.
I met Philip on a number of occasions during the 1990's and recall his quietly profound concerns about the state of our toxic food chain with its heavy reliance upon animals given next to no chance to express their normal psychological needs and fundamental freedoms.
At that time Philip was somewhat sceptical of the Soil Association's welfare standards for organically raised livestock which I and my colleagues were moulding and refining for publication, seeing any form of commercial farming as synonymous with animal exploitation.
I understood his reticence: too many organisations make unrealistic and sometimes downright untruthful claims for the production methods that they espouse. Who hasn't seen those adverts depicting perfect looking farmsteads full of 'happy hens', smiling cows and contented pigs rooting around in ye oldie traditional farmyards - and then ends by displaying a mass produced product that bears no relationship whatsoever with such scenes.
The hell we inflict on the animals that feed us
During their specially planned world trip that makes up the body of evidence in this book, Philip Lymbery and Elizabeth Oakshot, political editor of The Sunday Times, come across scenes which would incriminate the perpetrators to a lifetime in gaol if the World possessed a justice system that dispensed genuine justice for man and beast alike.
On describing their visit to the hen houses of the UK's largest egg supplier in Nottinghamshire, the authors state: "The egg farm was a series of giant sheds clad in corrugated iron. Inside were a million hens. Throughout their short seventy two week life span (chickens can live eight to ten years) they would never see daylight.
"They lived in cages around five metres long, known in the business as 'colonies'. Suspended lights brightened and dimmed at particular times to create the impression of night and day, all geared to regulating the egg-laying process."
Pigs, suffer a very similar fate to hens and a chapter in the book is devoted to laying bare the tortuous conditions suffered by the great majority of large scale pig farms which supply the main supermarket chains.
In the part of the voyage that takes them to the USA the authors report how, in California, thousands of dairy cows (8,000 in one herd is not unusual) are milked to death in vast purpose built mechanised sheds featuring robotic cow carousels and antibiotic laced genetically modified feeds dispensed by automatic conveyors.
The whole thing working around the clock in what is the ultimate 'factory farm' format. The unfortunate animals that must endure this hideous regime are milked-out after just two to three years and sold off into the ubiquitous hamburger trade.
There is an alternative!
By contrast, my organically managed Guernsey herd of forty cows lived an average of fourteen years, very rarely needing any form of vetinary intervention throughout their milking careers.
This is due to the fact that we never pushed our cows to produce maximum yields, always treating them with respect and love while feeding them a diet of home grown grasses and clovers plus other green matter that fulfils the natural needs of herbivorous ruminant quadrupeds.
The glorious unpasteurised milk and cream that resulted was eagerly purchased by the local community and I seldom needed to go further than ten miles to complete my sales round.
Farmageddon also plunges into the fish farming phenomena; another form of concentration camp where fish are kept in intense confinement with high rates of mortality and where sea lice proliferate leading to a catastrophic decline of wild fish stocks.
'The illusion of cheap food' is smashed to smithereens as the reader is taken behind the largely closed doors of a ruthless global multinational industry supplying the World's largest supermarket chains and industrial food giants.
To the authors' credit, they never sensationalise the shocking scenes they witness, preferring to simply convey the facts and expose the reality of a brazenly exploitive empire conveniently sanitized and dressed-up as a caring, quality controlled production system bringing you, the consumer, everything you could ever wish for and all in the air conditioned convenience of your local hypermarket food dispenser.
Fortunately, the reader is guided towards both personal and more general solutions, under such headings as "how to avoid the coming crisis" and "consumer power - what you can do". They are both pragmatic and realistic guides for the perplexed - sensibly encouraging readers to buy 'local' from producers one comes to trust and respect. Not wasting food by over-buying and avoiding over-eating meat products.
Human health is recognised as being dependent upon soils, animals and plants being treated as vital living organisms whose optimum growth is achieved by using natural ingredients and through the adoption of a caring, loving attitude, that is the antithesis of the subhuman battle ground that epitomizes the twenty first century factory farm.
All in all, I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants a grounded, undiluted account of the machinations of the global food industry and its devastating affect on the lives of millions of sentient beings, including ourselves.
The book: 'Farmageddon - the True Cost Cheap Meat' is written by Philip Lymbery and Isobel Oakshot and published by Bloomsbury.
Julian Rose is an early pioneer of UK organic farming, writer, broadcaster and activist. He is currently the President of the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside. His most recent book 'In Defence of Life - A Radical Reworking of Green wisdom' is published by Earth Books. Julian's website is www.julianrose.info.
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