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Rachel Carson Week – Muck Safari in Maryland

April 16th, 2014

Maryland, USA: This time a year ago, I was on a mission – writing Farmageddon – to find out how modern day America had heeded Rachel Carson’s warning of the perils of industrial farming.

I travelled from Pennsylvania and Rachel’s childhood home to the historic waterway of Chesapeake Bay. I wanted to see whether the countryside offered clues to Carson’s legacy.

Chicken muck spreading in Maryland, USA

Chicken muck spreading in Maryland, USA

I learned that one of the biggest threats to Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States, is the muck from vast numbers of chickens reared industrially in its watershed. It wasn’t long before I found out why:

A farm tractor clanked along with what looked like thick red smoke belching from the back of a long green trailer. It billowed across the adjacent road as reddish-brown lumps sprayed out onto the field behind. Poultry manure was being blown into the air and over the field.

RACHEL CARSON Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy

Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy



I was on a ‘muck safari’ with local waterkeeper, Kathy Phillips. “The stuff along the ditches and field edges; if it rains could run-off and end up in Chesapeake Bay,” Kathy explained; “The pungent smell of chicken manure being spread is a familiar part of spring here”.

Kathy moved here with her husband in the 1970s to live the beach life. After running for County Commissioner on a clean water ticket, Kathy became local waterkeeper, charged with enforcing federal law protecting the cost of Assateague.

“CAFOs are everywhere in this area,” she told me, using her favoured acronym for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, better known as factory farms. “They only grow corn and soya in these parts to support the area’s poultry industry.”

Poultry manure is used as cheap fertiliser to spread on the fields growing the corn and soya that will end up as chicken feed. At first glance, it’s a virtuous circle: the chickens eat the corn and their droppings replenish tired soils.

The only flaw is the vast number of chickens in such a small area. Chicken manure is heavy in nitrogen and phosphorus, precious nutrients in the right amounts, but too much or at the wrong time and the rain washes it into waterways where it becomes a serious pollutant.

Rachel Carson raised the alarm over widespread use of chemical sprays in the countryside. As it turned out, it was all part of an industrial approach to farming that would see chickens, pigs and cows disappear from the land and into factory farm sheds, their feed grown in pesticide-soaked fields elsewhere.

In my next video exploration – I discover more about how the industrialisation of chicken farming is polluting one of the USA’s best-known coastlines.

To get your copy of Farmageddon: the true cost of cheap meat, click here



April 16th, 2014

DSCN4261Cape Town: There’s standing room only at Kalk Bay Books, the number one venue in the province for book launches. I’m facing the audience with Cape Talk radio’s John Maytham who chairs the discussion, which could have gone on for so much longer, at the South African launch of ‘Farmageddon: The true cost of cheap meat’.

It was such a privilege to have the chance to share my findings from the three years of research that went into the book and to talk through the issues with such an engaged audience. People filled the seats, packed the gallery and stood along the back of the traditional bookstore overlooking the harbour where we had earlier watched fur seals play.

I was struck by how the same concerns as I’ve encountered in Europe were coming up here; what does factory farming mean for the healthiness of food; how does it affect the countryside; and why does the industrial agriculture lobby present it so falsely as the answer to all our problems?

Many thanks to John for chairing, to Audrey Rademaeyer’s Kalk Bay Books for hosting us, to publisher, Jonathan Ball/Bloomsbury for kindly organizing the event, and to everyone who came along and made it such a memorable event.

I’ve been so encouraged by the media interest since I’ve been here; to get a flavor of how Farmageddon is being received, have a listen to my drive-time interview with Cape Talk radio’s Bruce Whitfield.

Forest Heights primary school presentation on why cages should go!

Forest Heights primary school presentation on why cages should go!

Earlier in the day, I was truly honoured to visit Forest Heights Primary School where the children gave the most beautiful presentation on why cages must go! Wearing self-made hats bearing the national flag, they took me through why freedom is so important for animals, complete with fluffy hen figures and symbolic battery cages. I was hugely moved by the following presentation of gifts, singing and clapping.

Thank you so very much to Principal, Mrs Bosman, teacher Vivienne Rutgers, and all the children I met at Forest Heights; a truly moving, special experience.

Next up, I’ll be visiting one of South Africa’s major retailers for a very special, ground-breaking presentation… watch this space.


Rachel Carson Day – Celebrating Silent Spring

April 14th, 2014
RACHEL CARSON Photo: Everett Collection Historical / Alamy

Photo: Everett Collection Historical / Alamy

Pennsylvania, USA: The car ride was surprisingly short; before I knew it, I was looking up at the childhood home of Rachel Carson. I had come to find out what inspired her to kick-start the environmental movement and how well we heeded her warning.

I stepped out into the chill morning air and reticent sunshine in suburban Springdale, Pennsylvania. A small black and white woodpecker clattered the branch above me. A simple white-boarded farmhouse looked down toward the leafy street. It was April 14th, and the anniversary of Carson’s untimely death less than two years after Silent Spring.

A sign outside the house welcomed the curious to the ‘Wild Creatures Nature Trail’, where Carson began her lifelong fascination with the natural world. It was inscribed with her own words as a fourteen-year-old:

The call of the trail on that dewy May morning was too strong to withstand . . . It was the sort of place that awes you by its majestic silence, interrupted only by the rustling breeze and the distant tumble of water.

I was on the last leg of my Farmageddon tour and wanted to find out what inspired Rachel Carson to be such a pioneering voice for the environment. Click here to see exclusive video footage of what I found… on Rachel Carson Day.

To get your copy of Farmageddon: the true cost of cheap meat, click here



The politics of food

April 12th, 2014
Julian Baggini (left) & Philip Lymbery at Aye Write!

Julian Baggini (left) & Philip Lymbery at Aye Write!

Glasgow: Standing in a former Episcopal church turned hotel, I’m greeted by two Americans. We shake hands warmly while waiting to share a cab to the ‘Aye Write!’ literary festival. “We’re reading your book,” they said. I was thrilled. Turned out, they were authors in their own right and were speaking at the festival too.

The politics of food was the discussion on the menu today,  chaired by Jacqueline O’Donnell, owner and head chef of Glasgow’s ‘The Sisters’ restaurants. We were in conversation with fellow author and philosopher, Julian Baggini, and food writer, Joanna Blythman.

In a wide-ranging conversation starting with a short film trailer for Farmageddon, we talked about local food, provenance and labelling, and the vested interests behind the deepening industrial food crisis. Thanks to my fellow panelists for a fascinating discussion – an hour vanished in a flash, and to everyone who came out.

The last time I saw Joanna Blythman was when kindly invited to the launch of her excellent book, ‘What to Eat’, which is packed full of tips on how to eat well without waste or ethical dilemma. I highly recommend it.

Also highly recommended is Julian Baggini’s latest book, ‘The Virtues of the Table: How to eat and think’. It serves up a refreshingly new approach to the pressing issues behind the food we eat.  I found it surprisingly free of dogma with the underlying message imploring us to be virtuous rather than rigid in our food choices. It charts Julian’s journey through the moral maize of gastronomy with compelling and mouth-wateringly informative prose.

I’ll be seeing Julian again in Bristol on 16th May, when he chairs my Farmageddon session at the Bristol Festival of Ideas.

Plenty more travelling before then though; next stop, South Africa…

To get your copy of Farmageddon: the true cost of cheap meat, click here


A Minute’s Not-So-Quiet Reflection

April 11th, 2014

Guest blog by Conor Mark Jameson

Conservationist and author, Conor Mark Jameson

Conservationist and author, Conor Mark Jameson

The 50th anniversary of the US publication of Silent Spring inspired a flurry of headlines and comment in autumn 2012; particularly, of course, in North America, where author Rachel Carson is still widely revered.

UK publication of this iconic book came a year later, in 1963, although by then the ripples had already been felt on this side of the Atlantic. Prince Phillip is said to have brought advance copies of Silent Spring to these shores aboard the royal yacht, so alarmed had he been by the insights within it.

The words ‘silent spring’ were quickly ingrained in the public consciousness as the book sold worldwide. I sometimes wonder if any title, aside from religious texts, has been registered by so many, even those who have never picked up the book.

What’s less well remembered about Rachel Carson is an event that gives us the third of three consecutive half-century anniversaries, and which falls on 14th April 2014. On that fine spring Sunday evening, in a Maryland town called Silver Spring, Rachel Carson died. She had lived barely 18 months beyond publication of her world-changing book; long enough to witness its extraordinary initial impact, and to weather the extreme backlash it provoked from sections of industry and the scientific community. Long enough too to be vindicated by President Kennedy’s Scientific Advisory Committee, specially appointed to examine the validity of the issues ‘Miss Carson’ had raised and exposed.
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About Philip Lymbery

Philip Lymbery is Chief Executive Officer of Compassion in World Farming and co-author of Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat. He is an internationally respected authority on the impact of industrial agriculture on people, animals and the planet.