In Britain and Europe, our countryside is suffering the ravages of intensive farming; once common farmland birds like turtle doves, skylarks and tree sparrows have declined by up to 90%. Butterflies and bees too have declined, with less than a quarter of the bees needed to pollinate our crops.
Compared to the US, however, farmers in Britain and Europe are relative novices at the intensification game; but there is fresh impetus to intensify under the dubious justification of ‘feeding the world’, threatening to take our countryside and the quality of our food to a new tipping point. Some want to accelerate the industrialisation of farming in the name of ‘sustainable intensification’. Without a change of tack, mega-dairies, ‘battery’-reared beef and genetically engineered crops – and animals – will soon be the norm.
During three years of investigation for Farmageddon, I became struck by the link between how animals are kept and the quality of the food they produce. Generally, the more that animals are reared on the land with natural, varied diets, the healthier and tastier the food. We instinctively know this, which is why terms like ‘natural’ and ‘free-range’ are so attractive. It also explains why marketers all too often try to mask factory-farmed food behind labels showing false depictions of green fields, small farmhouses accompanied by comforting terms like ‘farm fresh’ and ‘country fresh’.
It made me angry at suggestions that factory farming is a ‘necessary evil’ to feed the poor. I question why is it right to expect people on low incomes to have to feed their children on unhealthy food? Do we really want a decimated countryside devoid of birds, bees and butterflies? And why isn’t more fuss being made over the fact that enough grain to feed billions more people is being wasted through feeding it to industrially reared animals?