This year’s summer in Britain isn’t going to be memorable. But, in America, it’s an altogether different story. Drought and record temperatures are causing serious problems.
The New York Times reports the drought is ‘over more than half of the continental United States’ and is the ‘most widespread in more than half a century’. Plus, it’s the ‘hottest year ever recorded,’ since records began in 1895. Of course, this is making many people’s lives miserable. There’s also an increase in wildfires to contend with as well as the threat of rail tracks buckling in the heat.
It’s even worse for farmed animals in cages and crates. They can’t escape the heat and humidity. They’re lucky if they feel a warm breeze when the doors to the sheds housing them are opened.
The weather is making a difference to farming in other ways. The production of corn, soya and other crops grown for animal feed is severely affected. The lack of water directly impacts plant growth. Yields are down, forcing prices up, which, in turn, increases costs to the consumer to buy meat, eggs and dairy, and bread and other staples.
A further worry about the drought is the impact it makes on the rivers and other waterway systems. As we saw with our own drought earlier this year, water levels drop to alarmingly low levels. When pollution and chemical run-off from intensive animal farming are added, the quality of the water is severely affected. For example, in the State of Georgia in the USA, the immense factory farming industry is polluting Flat Creek. Flat Creek flows into Lake Lanier, which welcomes millions of recreational visitors every year. Then, it flows into the Chattahoochee River, which is an important source of drinking water.
We have always argued at Compassion that intensive ‘factory’ farming is unsustainable. Crises in weather push already precarious — and heavily subsidised — modern intensive farming systems to the edge of profitability. The New York Times reports the government has ‘declared one-third of the nation’s counties — 1,297 of them across 29 states — federal disaster areas as a result of the drought, which will allow farmers to apply for low-interest loans to get them through the disappointing growing season’.
Further, weather crises contributes to social unrest and food riots. The latest I read about was in The Guardian. It detailed street protests in Iran because of the soaring price of chicken. I wrote about food riots here in May 2011. I reported on food related unrest in Greece, Haiti, North Korea, Algeria, Mogadishu, Zimbabwe and (again) Iran.
All of this concern about dirty water must be put into the context of the world food crisis. Oxfam’s 2011 report, Growing A Better Future, warned ‘higher incomes and increasing urbanisation leads people to eat less grains and more meat, dairy, fish, fruit, and vegetables. Such a ‘Western’ diet uses far more scarce resources: land, water, atmospheric space’.
With the prospect of 2 billion more people to feed by 2050, our food system needs to be 70-100% more productive, more effective. That cannot mean simply doubling farm outputs in a business-as-usual fashion. Just doubling output from our current food system would be like a water company with badly leaking pipes, losing half their water, simply laying down a second set of equally leaky pipes. Yes, it would double the water to peoples’ homes. It would also double the waste. Far better to have more effective pipes, free from leaks, than more of the same.
This is why we launched Food Sense. Our call for a common sense approach to feeding the world. One that ends the competition for food between people and farm animals; reduces and recycles food waste; supports the keeping of animals on farms, not in factories; and delivers more effective food systems geared toward feeding all people, now and in the future.