Posts Tagged ‘factory farming’

Rewilding with George Monbiot

Friday, December 19th, 2014
George Monbiot

George Monbiot

George Monbiot is author and columnist for The Guardian who writes with passion and insight about the environment. You may have seen his thought-provoking article on the role of meat in our society recently, which opens with the line, “From chickens pumped with antibiotics to the environmental devastation caused by production, we need to realise we are not fed with happy farm animals“.

George is someone I have long wanted to host here on my website. I am thrilled to have him as my guest interviewee this month. This is the first of a two-part interview. 

I recently read George’s book, Feral: Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding, which I found a gripping read; utterly fascinating, compelling and thought-changing. Its impact on me was such that I did something I don’t usually do – sent copies to people as a ‘must-read’. Feral made me reappraise my long-held belief in conservation as simply preserving habitats in timeless isolation. It has fired my thoughts about the need for a much greater restorative emphasis in the way we view the countryside. Whatever your views, take a glimpse at how rich the countryside around us could be through the pages of Feral.

Philip: George, on the subject of rewilding of the countryside, I found your recent book, Feral an absolutely gripping read.

Feral by George Monbiot

Feral by George Monbiot

What inspired you to write it?

George: I badly wanted to reconnect with the living world, which was one of the reasons why I moved to mid-Wales. But when I got there, I discovered that there was even less wildlife than in the city from which I had come. The hills are almost treeless. You can walk all day and see a couple of crows and no other birds. You can get down on your hands and knees and look for insects, and you’ll be lucky to find any at all. The entire landscape has been sheepwrecked.

At sea the vast shoals of fish and the reefs of sedentary creatures have been ripped to shreds by trawlers and scallop-dredgers. But it was an encounter there with one of the last members of the British megafauna that set me on the course I was to follow. One day I was kayaking in a rough sea close to the coast of Cardigan Bay. A bull dolphin leapt over my boat. As he did so, he made eye contact with me, and we held each other’s gaze until he crashed back into the water.

It is hard to describe the exhilaration I felt. It was an epiphany. From that moment I knew I wanted to live in a world in which such encounters are common. Instead of just fighting the bad things that are happening, I wanted to campaign for the return of missing natural wonders in this country, to bring back the forests and their wealth of species, to restore the lost marvels of the living planet. Soon after that, I came across the term rewilding. It exploded in my mind. Suddenly I knew exactly what it was that I was looking for.

Philip: What did you learn whilst writing Feral about the role of industrial farming in shaping the countryside in Britain and Europe?

George: I realised that there is a socially-constructed silence about what industrial farming has done to the living world. What I was looking at in Wales was mass destruction caused by an arm of the industry that for many centuries has been considered almost holy.

Sheep-farming has been venerated by the pastoral literary tradition since Theocritus, in the 3rd Century BC. He associated shepherding with virtue and purity, the antithesis of the corruption and scheming of the city. His theme was embraced by Virgil and by the New Testament, in which Christ is portrayed both as the Good Shepherd and as Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, “which taketh away the sin of the world”. The Elizabethan poets – Marlowe, Spenser and others – revived the tradition, with their eclogues and idylls about the pastoral life. And it lives still on Sunday night television, which is incomplete without a romanticised vignette of the shepherd’s life.

Yet this tradition, which we are taught to venerate, turns out to be amazingly destructive. More so, perhaps, than that of any other industry, if you compare its impacts to its production. Sheep farming in the uplands of Britain is amazingly unproductive, largely because the soil has been stripped down to almost nothing over the centuries. In Wales, for example, 76% of the land is used for meat production, but Wales imports by value seven times as much meat as it exports. There would be no hill farming at all in Britain if it were not for public subsidies. Yet, across almost all our uplands, it has turned what was once a rich, forested ecosystem into bare and blasted wet desert, in which you’ll see even less wildlife than in the chemical monocultures of the lowlands.

Look out for part two of my fascinating interview with George Monbiot.

“I’ve never seen anything quite this bad”

Monday, December 8th, 2014

These are the words that I said as I looked around the devastating effects of the fishmeal industry in Peru.

I visited a bay that is a ‘dead zone’ – caused by the fishmeal industry and the water pollution it is causing. There has been massive reductions in once common seabirds species like the Peruvian boobie. Local children have blister-like sores caused by the extreme pollution.

Children with skin blisters; wildlife driven to the brink. Watch my latest short video, an overview of my trip to Peru showing how the fishmeal industry is destroying entire eco-systems and polluting local communities- simply to produce cheap feed for factory farms.

For your copy of ‘Farmageddon: The true cost of cheap meat’, click here.

Farmageddon – Food’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
Out on the South Downs with Duke

Out on the South Downs with Duke

Walking through the English countryside on a glorious winter morning, it is hard to imagine that a battle is raging over the future of our food and the countryside. Dappled shades of green and brown line my path; glistening grass gently kissed by the weak morning sun; heavy dew spits from my boots with every step. Winter thrushes, recently arrived from Scandinavia, feast on berries; cattle dot the hillside grazing on the last of the now distant summer growth.

I live in the rural south of England where pasture, hedgerows and wildlife are very much part of the landscape. Yet, under the guise of ‘sustainable intensification’, battle lines have been drawn; a more industrial approach to farming, with little room for luxuries like animals out in the fields, is now seen as the way forward. After all, we need to feed a growing population – billions of extra mouths are expected on the planet within decades. This will mean, like it or not they say, animals confined in mega-farms, disappearing from the landscape and replaced by crops grown in prairies with the aid of chemical pesticides and fertilisers.

Things have been moving in this direction for a while, but now the pace is quickening. The strain is already showing; farmland birds that were once common in Britain are at an all-time low; bees have declined below what is needed for the proper pollination of crops in Europe; and concern grows about the quality of food on supermarket shelves – where it comes from, how it is produced and what it’s doing to our health.

Campaigning for Animals in Europe

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Eurogroup for Animals has been the leading voice for animal welfare in the European Union for many years. Based in Brussels, Eurogroup has 48 member organisations, including Compassion, which has a long history of membership and active participation. It’s an honour to serve on Eurogroup’s Board. Reineke Hameleers’s appointment as Director in 2013 signalled a new era for the organisation. 

Philip: What led you to Eurogroup and how do you see the future for Europe’s animals?

Reineke Hameleers, Director, Eurogroup for Animals

Reineke Hameleers, Director, Eurogroup for Animals

Reineke: I have always been intrigued by the way humans coexist and interact with other animals. This was the focus of my master’s thesis at Maastricht University. It’s the reason why I want to work in animal welfare. The human/animal relationship has far reaching consequences economically, ethically and socially. It became clear to me during my work, first as a volunteer and then as a regional director of the Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals, that one cannot protect animals without protecting people as well. The massive problems we face and the instrumental way animals are treated are disheartening. But it’s my passion and faith in the European project that keeps me going. The EU is not only of significance to Europeans but also to our relationship with billions of animals. We need Europe to improve animal welfare and Eurogroup for Animals has a pivotal role to play in this important development.

Philip: Which specific challenges does Europe face to achieving positive and meaningful change for animals?

Reineke: The EU has to show that it’s relevant to the lives of ordinary Europeans. It’s not only about markets and money Eurogroup for Animals logobut also about values and ideals. The Amsterdam and Lisbon treaties demonstrated the EU cared about animal welfare. They recognised animals as sentient beings. Eurogroup for Animals helps the EU to see that it can really contribute to the proliferation and protection of these values. Seven out of ten Europeans polled believed animal welfare should be improved, no matter how much it cost. Animal welfare is intrinsically connected to other values like our own wellbeing, our health, protection of the environment and a sustainable economy. An appalling example is how Europe treats its pigs, the majority are still being castrated, tails are being docked routinely and outdoor access or enrichment of housing are rare. This situation stands far from the sentience principle in the Treaty and is representative for a lot of other farmed animals.

In the new political term Eurogroup for Animals will campaign actively for better pig welfare among other species. Another key challenge is the transportation of livestock. We count on the new Commission to respond to the call of many citizens to revise the current regulation on transportation and introduce a maximum transport duration of 8 hours for mammals and 4 hours for poultry. It’s vital to invest in local sustainable food chains. Moreover, there are a lot of ‘forgotten’ species for which no specific regulation exists at all, like rabbits, dairy cows and equines. And then we haven’t spoken about the challenges for cats and dogs, wild animals and animals used in testing and research. I’m afraid my contribution to this blog is too short to cover all the challenges to implement that very important recognition of animal sentience in EU law and reality.

Natural High: Argentina’s Grass Fed Beef

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

What a difference can be seen in today’s short video, when juxtaposed with last week’s one. In this film, I’m still in Argentina, but in a totally different world. Animals and crops are intermingled in a sustainable way. The beef cows here are free range; and there are butterflies and birds all around, as opposed to the barren mud and faeces land that the feedlot cows were kept in.

The local farmer tells me: “Our animals spend their whole lives in the open fields – animals raised this way enjoy a level of optimum well-being, because they are not stressed.” The whole feel of this farm is world’s away from the last one that I visited – it’s hard to believe that they are in the same country.

The farmer also tells me about the human health benefits that his beef supplies. He claims that the feedlot cows have more highly saturated fat in their meat, because they can’t and don’t move around. He proudly tells me how his beef on the other hand has less saturated meat.

Without a doubt, the animals themselves here are benefitting from better living conditions, as is the local wildlife – biodiversity is thriving, and the people living here. There are no smells bringing infestations of rats; only butterflies, adding colour to an already vibrant scene.

For your copy of ‘Farmageddon: The true cost of cheap meat’, click here.

Farmageddon on film

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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.