Posted on March 10, 2016
Farmageddon, an important expose of the disastrous failings of the global food system, never quite gets to the bottom of why the agricultural system is like it is.
reviewed by Martin Empson
It is impossible to read Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat without coming to the conclusion that the world’s food and agriculture system is screwed. This is a system that produces enormous quantities of food, yet sees up to a third of that wasted. It’s a highly technological system requiring enormous quantities of oil, pesticides and chemicals to produce vast quantities of food; yet it’s a system that fails to feed the hungry.
Opening the book at random gives the reader plenty of ammunition to argue for a different, more rational, way to produce food. Take fishing for instance. Lymbery points out that a fifth of all fish caught is used as food for other fish in fish-farming. Some of this fish also is used as feed for pigs and other animals. Our food system spends vast quantities of energy and time producing food sources to fuel other food sources.
This is most apparent with beef. Lymbery points out that if “all the cereals alone currently fed to factory-farmed animals offered directly to people instead of being converted into meat, it could feed a mind-boggling number – as many as 3 billion folk.” This represents a tremendous waste of resources, but this isn’t simply an incredibly inefficient way of producing food. What this food system also produces is environmental disaster, ill-health in humans and frequently stressful and unhealthy animals.
So Lymbery documents the way that mass factory farming of beef, pigs and chickens in particular helps create the conditions for outbreaks of avian or swine-flu. The way over-use of antibiotics is helping to encourage drug resilience in both animals and people. The fossil fuels that drive the tractors, keep the lights on in the massive chicken farms and produce the pesticides contribute enormously towards climate change and vast quantities of manure threaten eco-systems (particularly in seas and oceans) around the globe.
The author emphasizes one thing above all else. Factory farming does not feed the world. In fact, because it sucks up other foods sources to feed animals, it actually undermines the ability to do this. In doing so it encourages (or needs) even more ridiculous solutions, such as the transportation of billions of bees vast distances to pollinate crops because the farms which use monocultural farming and high levels of pesticides have decimated local bee populations.