Farmageddon is an eye opener of a book written by Philip Lymbery Chief executive of Compassion in World Farming and Isabel Okeshott Sunday Times political editor. For two years Philip and Isabel travelled to many parts of the world to study the devastating impact of factory farming. I have read the book from cover to cover and have noted below the issues I found most compelling:
In 1958 Chairman Mao launched a war on Sparrows foe eating too many grains. The whole country was mobilised to kill them. According to one newspaper report an ‘estimated’ 194,432 sparrows were killed in one day in Shanghai alone. Millions were killed all over China. Sparrows were vital to the food chain. The bugs they fed on thrived, the locust population spiralled out of control so did grass hoppers. The insects devoured the crops and famine followed. A salient lesson to human beings that when you disturb nature it reacts with ferocity.
The Dairy Cow
One cow generates as much waste as fifty humans. There were 1.7 million cows in California in 2001. Together they generate more excrement than the entire population of the UK. Cowpats are channelled into vast lagoons attached to farms. The let of noxious gases and seepage is inevitable causing water pollution as well e.coli bacteria. Ground water gets polluted with nitrates. Effluent from cows gets into water supplies. These mega dairies cause heart disease, birth defects, stunted lung development and asthma amongst children. 30 years ago the average dairy cow produces 5,000 litres of milk, today it produces 7,000 litres fed on high energy concentrated food-grains not grass. This is zero grazing in which cows are kept indoors for much of their lives. ‘Dry Cow’ therapy is where cows are given anti biotic infusions in their udders to prevent them getting Mastitis twice a year. The global livestock industry contributes 14.5% of human produced Greenhouse Gas emissions- more than all our cars, planes and trains put together.
Bees vital for human survival
As a result of industrial farming there are no longer enough bees to pollinate the crops. Most fruits and vegetable crops are dependent on pollination by bees. Wild bees so essential for natural pollination have been decimated by chemical soaked monocultures and industrial farming methods that have robbed them of varied habitats they need to survive. Chemical pesticides used in massive proportion also kill of bees. Farmers in America are forced to ‘hire bees’ costing then a huge amount of money. In China men and women pollinate the crops by hand! Like the proverbial canary in a coal mine warning of impending danger, butterflies like birds and bees are the hallmarks of a healthy environment. Their plight is part of the complex web of life that underpins food and farming. A whole industry has grown around factory farming-companies developing latest type of animal feed with their latest formulas, drug producing companies and equipment manufacturers.
Around 100 billion farmed fish are produced globally every year. 30 billion more than all the chickens, cows, pigs and other farm animals reared worldwide. Farmed fish are fed smaller fish like salmon and trout. It takes between 3 tonnes and 5 tonnes of small fish to produce one tonne of fish. Fish meal made from small pelagic fish is also fed to farmed animals like chickens and pigs. Up to 50,000 farmed salmon are kept in a single cage. They suffer from cataracts, fin and tail injuries and body deformities. They are infested with parasites and are forced to compete for space and oxygen. Sea lice from fish farms kill a huge number of wild fish as they latch on to wild fish passing fish farms. Because the fish that become sexually mature fish lose their appetite and lose flesh, farm hands use a process to produce infertile fish by a technique called Triploidy. Farmed fish attract predatory seals, birds, otters and other wildlife. They are shot by fish farmers. Ocean ranching is where juvenile fish are hatched and reared in captivity before being released in the sea. The liberated fish then live naturally in the wild before returning to their imprinted release point as adults where they are caught for harvest.
The Health Cost
NHS has an annual budget of £100 billion. Every year 25,000 people die of drug resistant microorganisms. By 2030 half of all Americans will be obese. In the US obesity related health cost will soar to $48 billion dollars and by £1.25 billion in the UK. Today’s chicken has almost 3 times more fat than a typical chicken in 1970. This is because traditional chickens were active and ate vegetation and seeds. Modern chickens are fed high energy cereals like corn and are kept in cages. The world produced 80 million tonnes of chicken meat from an estimated 55 billion chickens. The UK raises over 800 million meat chickens every year. UK’s farm animals 80 million tones of muck every year
At any time there are 10 million pigs being raised on factory farms in North Carolina. Huge lagoons of pig sewage upwards of 3000 of them dot the North Carolina landscape. Each can hold fecal matter, urine, blood, excrement, after births and even still born piglets. Lagoons sometimes overflow and flood over fields and seep into ground water and rivers causing ‘Eutrophication’-a process in which phosphorus and nitrogen over enrich water distorting the Eco-system. The excessive nutrients create the ideal condition for algae to flourish sapping Oxygen levels in the water till it eventually there is too little oxygen to support any other life leading to, ‘dead zones’. Fish are decimated in oxygen less rivers. Half the world’s pigs are in China. In 2011 the British government signed a multi-million pound livestock trade agreement with China involving live export of thousands of prime breeding pigs. UK bred sow produces 22 piglets a year compared to 14 in China. Chinese farmers fed a steroid called Clenbuterol to pigs to get them to grow faster without getting fat. Clenbuterol is illegal in most countries and has side effects like Palpitations and stiffening of the heart muscle.
Food, Land and Hunger
90% of worlds Soya is fed to farm industrial livestock. To keep up with the food demands of a growing world population an additional 2 million square kilometres of land may be needed by 2030. Argentina exports nearly half of all Soya meal produced. Soya Beans are ground into Soya meal and shipped to Europe, UK and China to fatten pigs and chickens. If eaten directly rather than fed to industrially reared livestock, the cereals alone could feed 3 billion people. Whereas traditional farms relied on manual labour, modern agriculture is heavily dependent on oil and gas guzzling machinery and huge quantities of Petro chemicals. Professor David Pimentel a renowned ecologist based at Cornell University in New York State found that conventional crop production in America swallows up the equivalent 63 barrels of oil per hectare. Of these two-thirds is used for petrochemicals like fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs. One tone of US maize a staple feed for intensive livestock takes a barrel of oil to produce. While modern farming methods globally use 2 barrel of oil on average to produce to produce enough fertilizer and pesticide for 1 hectare of crops. Conventional sources of crude oil and gas are running out and there is a widespread consensus that energy is only going to get more expansive in future. This will have knock on effect on food prices. On average meat needs around 10 time of water per calorie to produce as vegetables and other plants. The UN warns that farming is already by far the dominant cause of water depletion globally taking more water out of the ground than rain puts back in. This is causing the sea levels to rise accounting for about a quarter of sea level rise. When Earth’s surface is paved over, stripped of forests and fields or drained of natural springs and creeks the rain drops will not go into rivers and lakes to be used by people and animals but will head out to sea resulting in rising sea levels. Up to 2 billion people in the world already suffer water shortages; scientists predict the numbers will at least double affecting as many as 7 billion people by 2050. Industrialization of farming in step with population growth is likely to place the greatest strain on water supplies over the next 4 decades. According to UN FAO predictions the livestock population will almost double by 2050 to 120 billion slaughtered a year. A third of world’s entire cereal harvest and 90% of its Soya now feeds industrially reared livestock. At the same time millions of hectares of fertile land are being turned over to bio fuels. There is now a dangerous competition between crops of human consumption, crops for industrial farms and crops for cars, resulting in huge price increases. All cereals currently fed to factory farmed animals could feed 3 billion people. It takes an average 6kg. Of plant protein such as cereals to make 1kg. Of high quality meat. For every 6kg of plant protein fed to animals only 1kg. Of animal protein is given back. Producing 1kg. of beef requires as much as 20kg. of feed.
According to environmentalist Chandan Nair the true cost of US $4 dollar burger costs something like US $100. This is when you count the cost of converting grains into meat and the water and energy use. For food production alone at least 2 million sq. kilometres of additional land will be needed by 2030, an area 8 times the size of the UK. A similar area of land could be flooded by the middle if the next century.
In 1990 before the arrival of GM crops in Argentina 35 million litres of chemicals were used on crops per year. By 2010 300 million litres were used almost 10 times the pesticides and herbicides used pre GM causing cancers, allergies, asthma, miscarriage and birth defects. GM Crops are linked to a dramatic fall in number of butterflies, bees, weeds and seeds. The crops that are most likely to be GM are also the crops most likely to be destined for animal feed. The big 4 GM crops Corn (Maize), Soya, Cotton and Rapeseed are all used for animal feed. The US feeds 40% of its corn to farm animals and 85% of GM. GM seeds have to be bought every year which are patented and terminator seeds. While initially GM crops are pest resistant very soon they succumb to them. Poor farmers are drowned in debt unable to cover the cost of GM seeds and chemicals. Since 1995 more than 250,000 farmers in India have committed suicide trapped by failing GM crops and debts. A GM milk boosting hormone is widely used in the US. It involves giving regular jabs with an artificial version of natural growth hormones to boost milk production by 10 to 20%. The product called Bovine Growth Hormone is associated with serious health risks for the cows. They suffer from painful udder infection, digestive disorders and lameness. Though GM crops are banned in the UK there is no law against giving animals GM feed.
Soil erosion affects almost a third of the world’s cropland. Land is lost to urbanisation, contaminated by irrigation and becoming desert.
Cows genetically modified to produce, ‘human milk’ It is likely that in the next 10 years some kind of hybrid cow/human milk will be available. At China Agricultural University scientists have reportedly introduced human genes into 300 dairy cows enabling them to produce milk with some of the key properties of breast milk. Philip Lymbery concludes that industrial food system is geared towards producing food in volume, regardless of quality, in many ways that rely on large amounts of finite resources, including land, oil and water. He quotes Albert Schweitzer, ‘Man has lost the capacity to foresee and forestall’. If something is not done soon warnings of a Farmageddon future could become a reality.