April started with a plane ride from Argentina to Peru. I was halfway through a tour of duty looking at factory farming’s insatiable desire for animal feed from far flung lands; soya, fishmeal and the like. Driving through the desert north of Lima was when I realised just how all-pervasive factory farming really is. It was as desert as I’d ever seen; just flat sand; not a cactus or other plant anywhere. Nothing. Punched up from the ground were ridges and mountains; some like wind-blown burial mounds; others jagged and scarred as if swiped by a giant tiger paw. But there in the distance, spread across the sand was what looked like the encampment of an army on the move. Long white tents lined up in the desert. It was an eerie site. This was an intensive chicken meat farm in the desert; seemingly on the edge of the Earth.
During my brief stay in Peru, I met with local people concerned at the impact that factory farming and in particular, the fishmeal industry is having on their community. Much of the fishmeal is exported to feed industrially reared animals in places like Asia and the UK. It was rocket fuel for the book that I’m writing with Sunday Times journalist, Isabel Oakeshott.
As April turned to May, I looked at alternatives to factory farming; like a pasture-based farm in Cheshire where cattle and sheep are kept in high welfare conditions in ways that benefit the environment. I visited a Dagenham recycling plant to look at the possibility of recycling food waste instead of dumping it. After all, we throw away about a quarter of our food, putting great pressure on our agricultural lands to produce more than is actually needed. It puts an awful lot of pressure on the world’s resources. I wanted to find out if there was a better way of using it than burying in landfill. It was a privilege to speak with Tristram Stuart, an expert in food waste and the environment.
I spent some time at Wageningen University in the Netherlands where they’re researching novel ways of producing food and fuel from seaweed and algae. I also visited a hugely inspiring mixed farm; White Oaks Pasture in Georgia, USA, where a mix of farm animals are kept in truly high welfare conditions on the land in a way that is not only environmentally friendly, but is commercial and scalable. It was a joy to see. And seeing 50,000 chickens being reared for meat in the most verdant surroundings provided the perfect contrast to the bizarre site of chicken factory farms in the Peruvian desert.
In the same period, we’ve launched our new RAW campaign; aimed at exposing the raw truth about factory farming. It’s a campaign that we believe will garner wide support and will be addressing the kinds of issues we’ve been exploring recently at home and little-known hotspots like Peru around the world.