Posts Tagged ‘factory farming’

Rachel Carson Week – Muck Safari in Maryland

Wednesday, 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

Rachel Carson Day – Celebrating Silent Spring

Monday, 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


A Minute’s Not-So-Quiet Reflection

Friday, 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.

Commemorating Rachel Carson – 50 Years On

Thursday, April 10th, 2014
RACHEL CARSON © Globe Photos / ZUMA Press Inc. - Alamy

Photo: Globe Photos / ZUMA Press Inc. / Alamy

It was mid-April in Pennsylvania, USA, and spring was in full swing. Birds sang and daffodils celebrated in rampant profusion outside the front door of the white clapboard farmhouse. I looked out from the childhood bedroom window of the late Rachel Carson, the mother of the modern environmental movement, who died this week 50 years ago.

In 1962 Rachel Carson’s seminal book Silent Spring shone a spotlight on the effects of spraying the countryside with chemicals, part of agriculture’s new industrialised approach.

Across the Atlantic, her voice was to be joined by the likes of Ruth Harrison, who wrote Animal Machines, and Peter Roberts, founder of Compassion in World Farming, both of whom focused on how this new way of farming was affecting the animals themselves.

As I gazed across the Allegheny valley where Carson grew up, I pictured the young girl inspired by the natural world around her: picking fruit from apple orchards, wandering nearby woods and hillsides, making countless discoveries as she went. I could see two enormous chimney stacks belching smoke into the blue sky. Carson grew up in a world where industry and countryside existed side by side. But during her lifetime lines became blurred and industrial methods found their way into farming, with devastating consequences.

Mountains of Meat Waste Doubly Repugnant

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Food waste was once more in the news this week, thanks to a House of Lords committee report calling for action to curb this ‘morally repugnant’ issue. Supermarkets were in the firing line for ‘BOGOF’ offers, blamed by committee chairwoman, Baroness Scott, for encouraging “excess consumption” leading to food waste.

In a striking statistic, the committee reportedly described the amount of food discarded by consumers in industrialised nations as equivalent to nearly the entire level of net food production in sub-Saharan Africa.

When it comes to meat and dairy products, food waste is doubly repugnant; putting animals through the suffering of factory farming for ‘cheap’ meat, only to then throw them away.

Broiler chickenThe sad fact is that each year, Britain alone throws away the meat equivalent of 110 million animals; most are chickens, along with nearly 3 million pigs and over 200,000 cattle; that’s an awful waste of life, and the land, water and other resources that went into their production.

Yet, the biggest single area of food waste globally is feeding of grain – cereals and soya – to industrially reared farm animals. The feed is often imported from distant lands, grown on land that was formerly rich pasture or rainforest. Those animals could have been converting grass and other stuff that people can’t eat into things that we can.

Instead, they are crammed together and fed human-edible crops, returning less than a third of the calorific value of the grain they eat as meat, milk and eggs.

If all this grain destined for industrially reared animals were planted in one field, it would cover the entire land surface of the European Union. If fed directly to people, it would sustain an extra 4 billion.

So, there’s the crux of the challenge to feeding a growing human population; not that we don’t produce enough – the current food system churns out sufficient to feed 11 billion people or more.

The real reason is because we waste it; by throwing it away or feeding it to farm animals who would be better off – for all our sakes – being allowed to roam freely.

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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.