Posts Tagged ‘food system’

Book review: In defence of life by Julian Day Rose

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

In defence of life: Essays on a radical reworking of green wisdom

by Julian Day Rose (Earth Books, 2013)

In defence of life book cover jhp51e63ee14aaefNestled along the banks of the Thames is the stately home which so inspired Kenneth Grahame to write the children’s classic, ‘The Wind in the Willows’. Ratty, Mole and Badger clubbed together to persuade the flamboyant and self-destructive Toad, fascinated by the latest shiny things, to see the error of his ways.

That same estate provided inspiration for this modern collection of essays delving into food and the latest shiny things of industrial farming. Sir Julian Day Rose presents a fast and furious x-ray view of what’s happening beneath the skin of today’s global food system. He reveals how the mantra of ‘sustainable intensification’ is wheeled out regardless of the consequences, in much the same way as Toad careering about the road in his flash motorcar.

Through the pages of this book, Rose combines personal insight, passion and directness with a lifetime of first-hand experience. What comes through is his pioneering spirit, turning his estate organic well before it was the thing to do. He took on the forces of homogenised food and opposed government plans to ban raw milk.

In Defence of Factory Farming: How a ruinous system is kept afloat – Part 5

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

It is my pleasure to introduce the fifth and final part in the series of my guest, Peter Stevenson’s, exploration of the interweaving threads that justify and entrench factory farming.  Thank you Peter for sharing with us in detail the varying strands that support and allow factory farming to thrive and for highlighting that a fresh approach is needed to developing a fair and kind food system.  Please read the whole series here.

Peter Stevenson's two rescue dogs, Jodie and Jamie.

Peter Stevenson’s two rescue dogs, Jodie and Jamie.

The claim of necessity: we need to produce 70% more food by 2050

Finally factory farming wraps itself in the cloak of virtue. We’re the good guys come to feed the world. Its advocates tell us that 70% more food must be produced to feed the growing world population which is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. And as we need to produce so much extra food, further industrialisation is inevitable.

This ‘70% more’ message has become the prime driver of global food and farming policy. It is widely cited to justify industrial and technology-based solutions that respond to a challenge presented as a primarily quantitative one. The fixation with 70% more is such that policy makers tend to give insufficient attention to the danger that mounting industrialisation will undermine the natural resources – land, soil, water, biodiversity – on which our ability to produce food depends.

But what if it’s not true? What if we don’t need to produce 70% more? Then current policies, with their focus on a massive increase in production, would be based on a false premise.

De Schutter has said that “We live in a world which, if we managed our resources adequately, could feed almost twice the planet’s population. We produce the equivalent of 4500 calories per person per day.  That’s twice as much as the daily need of 7 billion inhabitants”.

It is clear that more than enough food is already produced to feed the anticipated world population in 2050 of 9.6 billion. The real challenge lies not so much in producing more but in wasting less, and ensuring a more equitable distribution of food and agricultural resources. As will be explained below, over 50% of global crop calories are lost or wasted or otherwise used in ways that do not contribute to the human food supply.

A 2014 report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition states that worldwide 25% of food calories are lost or wasted post-harvest or at the distribution/retail and consumer levels. In addition, 9% of global crop calories are used for biofuels and other uses.


Grain-fed cattle on factory farm

The University of Minnesota paper referred to earlier calculates that 36% of the world’s crop calories are fed to animals but, as explained above, only 17-30% of these calories are returned for human consumption as meat or milk. The effect of this is that 70-83% of the 36% of the world’s crop calories that are used as animal feed are wasted; they produce no food for humans. This means that 25-30% (70-83% of 36%) of the world’s crop calories are being wasted by being fed to animals.

In total, therefore at least 59% of the world’s crop calories are wasted:

  • 25% post-harvest or at the distribution/retail and consumer levels
  • 9% in use for biofuels and other non-food uses
  • 25-30% by being fed to animals.

UNEP has also looked at the waste entailed in feeding human-edible crops to animals. It calculates that the cereals which, on a business-as-usual basis, are expected to be fed to livestock by 2050, could, if they were instead used to feed people directly, provide the necessary food energy for over 3.5 billion people. If a target were adopted of halving the amount of cereals that, on a business-as-usual basis, would be used for feed by 2050, an extra 1.75 billion people could be fed.

Increased production may be needed in certain regions or specific cases but, in light of the various forms of loss and waste referred to above, the claim that a 70% increase in global food production is needed by 2050 substantially overestimates the quantity of extra production needed.

And so necessity, the last refuge of factory farming, crumbles. We do not need to produce huge amounts of extra food; we simply need to use what we produce more wisely.


An interlinked web supports factory farming and allows it to thrive. This web comprises many strands: legislation that appears strong on paper but in practice often proves illusory, a deceptive economics that by sleight of hand can make the costly appear cheap and a scientific orthodoxy that tends to restrict our view of what constitutes good animal well-being. Further support comes from claims to efficiency that bear little scrutiny, a questionable assertion that we need to produce 70% more food and avowed respect for animals as sentient beings while treating them as machines which if fine-tuned will be ever more productive. As a result industrial livestock production appears to be locked in to our food system.

We urgently need fresh thinking that allows us to develop a food system that provides healthy food, restores and enhances the natural resources on which agriculture depends and respects the animals that provide our meat, milk and eggs.

Pasture-based farming in Georgia, USA – the way it should be…

Peter Stevenson is Compassion in World Farming’s Chief Policy Advisor. His parents were Czech refugees who arrived in Britain in 1939. Peter studied economics and law at Trinity College Cambridge in the mid 1960s.   In 2004 Peter was the joint recipient with Joyce D’Silva of the RSPCA Lord Erskine Award in recognition of a “very important contribution in the field of animal welfare”.

He has written comprehensive legal analyses of EU legislation on farm animals and of the impact of the WTO rules on animal welfare. Peter is lead author of the recent study by the FAO reviewing animal welfare legislation in the beef, pork and poultry industries.  

Before joining Compassion in World Farming in 1991, Peter worked as a solicitor and, for fifteen years, as a freelance theatre director working in experimental fringe theatre and for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He lives in Scotland with Annie his wife who is a painter and two wonderful rescue dogs, Jamie and Jodie, who bully him with incessant demands for walks, play, food and fun.

In Defence of Factory Farming: How a ruinous system is kept afloat – Part 2

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

The factory farming system still prevails despite scientific evidence showing the wide and negative impacts.  I am delighted to introduce the second of this five-part series by Peter Stevenson, exploring the interweaving threads that prop up factory farming – perhaps the most inefficient, inhumane and unnecessary system so far invented.  Read the whole series here.

A distorting economics

Peter Stevenson

Peter Stevenson

Just as science has brought an overly mechanistic approach to our understanding of animal well-being, we have an economic system that takes certain costs into account while ignoring others. In both cases we see a partial truth but not the whole truth. Some costs of producing meat and dairy products – the provision of feed, housing and veterinary care – are borne by the farmer and hence by the end consumer. Other costs are ‘on the house’ being borne by taxpayers or future generations.

Industrial livestock production is totally dependent on feeding human-edible cereals to animals who convert them very inefficiently into meat, milk and eggs. This inefficiency results in more arable land as well as surface and groundwater being generally needed to produce a unit of nutrition from industrially produced meat than from meat derived from animals that are fed little or no human-edible crops. The feed crops needed for intensively farmed animals are themselves grown intensively leading to soil degradation and water pollution from the chemical fertilisers used to boost crop yields. Industrial farming’s huge appetite for soy for animal feed leads to deforestation in South America which results in massive greenhouse gas emissions and loss of wildlife.

This environmental damage is paid for not by farmers and end consumers but by taxpayers and future generations who will be hampered in their attempts to produce food by water shortages, degraded soil and the biodiversity losses that accompany intensive crop production.

burger-iStock_4026750MedThe high levels of meat consumption that have been made possible by industrial farming are having an adverse impact on human health. Overconsumption of animal protein can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart diseases and certain cancers. The cost of treating this disease burden is borne by the (in Europe) taxpayer funded health service not by agri-business which, through years of spending billions on advertising, has foisted a perverse food culture and unhealthy diets on the developed world and is now turning its attention to developing countries. None of the cost of treating this ill-health and the concomitant loss of production through absence from work is included in the price of industrially produced meat.

Hidden tragedy of horses forgotten?

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

The current food scandal is shocking, if nothing else, for revealing the extent to which horse meat has fraudulently made its way into processed meat products labelled “beef”. It turns out that horse meat is so ubiquitous that UK government ministers now talk about an international criminal conspiracy.

The scandal has been met by popular outrage. The serious debate has focused on how a profusion of horsemeat got into the food chain and who’s to blame. But in all of the debate, it seems we’ve forgotten the welfare of horses themselves.

I fear for them. How were they treated? How did they die?

These horses are often not bred for food. They are mostly surplus animals who end up as meat. Their lives often start out as pets, or as working animals on a farm, or as race horses. When they become unwanted and unloved, their financial value drops and their meagre worth is determined by how much profit can be extracted from their carcasses.

We know that even in the best regulated slaughterhouses, cows, pigs, sheep and chickens are likely to suffer fear and anxiety. Horses too can suffer terribly during the slaughter process. Their future is now as cheap meat. Let’s look at what we know.


Betrayal of consumer trust

Friday, February 8th, 2013

As the horsemeat scandal takes yet another twist, the true extent is revealed of the betrayal of consumer trust.  That so much horsemeat masquerading as beef could enter the British food chain is staggering enough.  It also begs the bigger question of what else is getting into our food without us knowing?

How do we know that meat from religiously slaughtered animals – their throats often cut whilst fully conscious – isn’t getting into the wider food chain?

How do we know that pig meat isn’t getting into non-pork products; something that would be of real concern to some religious communities?

How do we know that pork produced using cruel sow stalls, banned in Britain and partially so in Europe, isn’t being stocked on some supermarket shelves?

How do we know that meat from the offspring of cloned animals isn’t once again in the British food chain, as it was in 2010?  After all, there is no requirement to label meat and milk from the offspring of clones.  What’s more, the UK government leads the way in opposing any effective European restrictions on cloning.

What we do know is that much of the meat on many supermarket shelves is from factory farmed animals, but consumers are denied real power of choice because it isn’t labelled to say how it was produced.

And there’s another question that no one seems to be asking.  The horses that found their way into British burgers and ready meals; how were they killed? Did they end their lives in a state of fear, pain and misery?  I suspect we’ll never know.  After all, if their meat can slip into our food so widely without us knowing, how will we ever find out how they died?

The scandal raises more questions than answers.  What I do know is that urgent action is needed, not least by Government, to start rebuilding public confidence.  An obvious first measure would be to introduce compulsory labelling telling consumers how their food was produced.  By my reckoning, it’s the least they should do.

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.