We were sold the idea that modern farming
techniques, such as agrochemicals, genetic engineering and
factory farming, would end hunger in the world. Now, autumn
2009, one in seven people are hungry. That’s more than 14% of
the planet’s population and the figure is rising. At the same
time, we now produce every year enough food to feed 12 billion,
which is double the world’s current population. We have been
told a terrible lie and the truth is that modern farming is all
about the unsustainable use of limited resources for just one
reason. That reason is profit. The consequences of modern
farming techniques on human health and on the environment are
So, who is eating all this excess food? The
world produces 70 million tonnes of beef a year and people in
Britain now eat 50% more meat than they did in the 1960s, which
is just about double the daily intake recommended by The World
Health Organisation. Middle-aged men who eat meat have a 300%
greater risk of heart disease than those who don’t eat. And the
World Cancer Research Fund recently announced that red meat
causes intestinal cancers. Processed meat is even more
dangerous, they say.
According to The United Nations Food and
Agriculture Organisation, the production of red meat releases
18% of all the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, more than for
any other type of food. We are talking about 14% of global
methane emissions and a carbon footprint of 16 tonnes of CO2 per
tonne of beef and lamb.
Factory farming concentrates enormous numbers
of animals in a small space. This has resulted in the outbreak
of serious global diseases or pandemics such as Mad Cow Disease.
This year saw the outbreak of swine flu at a Smithfield Meats
factory farm in Perote, Mexico. The disease spread around the
planet very quickly.
Another consequence of concentrating animals
in a small area is the need to grow feed crops. Farms stop
producing food for humans and in Brazil it results in
deforestation. Pesticides and fertilizers enter into the food
chain along with sedatives, growth hormones and antibiotics
which are used on the animals. As a result, animal waste sends
phosphates, nitrates, ammonia and copper into surrounding water
systems, killing fish populations and threatening public health.
The antibiotics used make dangerous diseases more resistant to
treatment. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says nearly half
of America’s water supply and 80% of its agricultural land is
used to grow animal feed. This feed then typically travels large
distances to reach the animals.
So, what can we do to reduce the
environmental impact of what we eat? Use consumer power to lower
your carbon footprint and improve your health at the same time.
Cut down on red meat and cut out processed meat. These actions
will give you the budget to buy locally produced organic meat.
Apply the same principal to dairy products. If you don’t live in
the tropics, don’t buy tropical fruit. Buy in season from your
region. President Obama and his family follow the ideas of
Michael Pollan. “Eat food, not too much. Mostly plants.” This
means checking ingredients. Real bread contains flour, salt,
yeast and water, nothing else. Food additives are all about
profit. And try to eat at the lower end of the food chain.
Following these guidelines will reduce your personal carbon
footprint by 20%. Not bad.
I have not mentioned the ethical questions of
modern farming methods. I will leave that to the words of
Wendell Berry: “The industrial farm is said
to have been modelled on the factory production line. In
practice, it looks more like a concentration camp.”
Pythagoras: “As long as men kill animals,
they will kill each other.”
Leonardo da Vinci: “The time will come when
people will see the killing of animals as murder.”
Albert Einstein: “Nothing will benefit human
health and increase the chances of survival of life on earth as
much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”