When I was in South Africa in September on the second leg of my South African Farmageddon tour I met with the Most Reverend Ziphozihle Siwa, who is the presiding Bishop of the Methodist church and president of South Africa’s Council of Churches. He very kindly accepted my invitation to publish here as one of my guests his profoundly important statement opposing industrialised agriculture from a Christian perspective.
I am writing this appeal as one of the followers of Jesus Christ who said in John 10:10 “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” I write as the faith leader on the eve of the World Food Day (16 October) and out of deep concern for the ecological crisis that threatens to bring us and the whole of creation to the brink of mass suffering and destruction. My appeal is that we pay special attention to this and request all people of faith to pause, reflect and act as stewards of all that God has created.
This crisis is human-induced, caused among other things by industrialised agriculture which depends on monocultures, pesticides and factory farming of animals, as well as our prevailing culture of consumerism. The challenge to overcome this crisis lies in the human heart. Combating Climate Change requires nothing less than a radical change of direction, a change of heart and mind, a transformation of our society at the level of culture itself.
We need to realise that we have been captured by the lure of consumerism to believe our happiness and success depends on what we eat, wear, own and use.
We are trapped in the logic of consumerism which emphasises what we lack downplaying what we already have. We are reminded daily of our unfulfilled needs, thus placing consumerism at the heart of culture. The over consumption of animal-derived products – meat, eggs, milk and so on – is part of this culture of consumerism and places an enormous burden on human health, as well as on the lives of animals which are crammed into factory farms in order to supply our demands, especially for cheap meat.
Farmed animals eat grass and bushes by nature – food that we, as humans, cannot eat – and 67% of land in South Africa is available and suitable for grazing and browsing.
Yet we take the animals off the land and cram them in large numbers into huge sheds, feeding them vast amounts of fish and grains in order to make more meat, more eggs, and more milk, cheaply. The meat, eggs and milk from these animals is directed towards the Consumer Culture which then, in turn, struggles with obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, while the oceans become depleted of fish and rural farmers lose their livelihoods because they are unable to compete with cheap supermarket products. As for the animals, they live and die without ever seeing a blade of grass or a ray of sunshine.
The church has a moral and theological responsibility to set aside this stupidity and embrace its role of stewardship of our beautiful earth and all its creation. We need our congregations to become eco-congregations transforming culture to promote a healthy diet for all, sustainable livelihoods for rural farmers, as well as the well-being of the land and all its creatures. Only in this way can we ensure sustainability and establish justice for all.
Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa
Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa
President of the South African Council of Churches