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Saturday, 13 December 2014

Book recommendation: "Farmageddon" Philip Lymbery & Isabel Oakeshott

This is an excellent book and very topical given the recent horsemeat scandal. However despite the title it covers more than just the meat industry, it being an examination of the whole intensive farming industry and its impact on our countryside, health and wildlife.
The first few chapters cover topics that are fairly familiar, battery hens , pesticides and the decline in our wildlife. There is a whole section on the decline in bees with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) being linked to a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids. These are not sprayed on the plants but on the soil so that the soil itself becomes toxic and the whole plant gets to absorb the chemicals, becoming 'poison factories' to insects. In 2013 the EU voted to ban the use of neonicotinoids on crops deemed attractive to bees however the UK voted against the measure. Indeed a common thread throughout the book is the role that the EU plays in regulating food production and the fact that UK governments are often seeking to remove or prevent positive EU regulation in the interests of big business vested interests. Should a laissez faire , neo-liberal party ever lead the UK out of the EU then expect a round of deregulation of pesticides, sprays and animal care regulation.
However it is when the book moved on to animal care other than hens and then food hygene issues that it became a real eye opener. Battery style farming of cows on an industrial scale means that they have to be injected with umpteen antibiotics as their crammed in living conditions make disease rife. All of which leads to overuse and the result is super bugs and animals whose natural disease resistance declines. Cows and pigs stand all day in pens where they cannot turn round and are stuffed full of artificially enhanced food as grass grazing cannot produce the level of milk to 'maximise efficiency' or fatten them up for the kill quickly enough.
We then get full descriptions of unhygienic slaughterhouses, meat contaminated with faeces entering the food chain and the devastating effect on the basic nutritional quality of meat of factory production with the fat content going through the roof at the expense of protein. By 2030 annual obesity-related health costs in the UK are expected to soar by £1.25 billion. Meanwhile meat production is deliberately being 'outsourced' from the UK to those parts of the world where animal welfare rules are lax (thus maximising profits) and where they are less fussy about what gets bunged into the grinder, hence the horse meat scandal . The only surprising thing about the latter is that it was only horse meat they found and not a wider range of animal matter.
All in all this is a frightening book which I've only briefly summarised. Carcinogenic pesticides, GM cows producing 'human milk', But the best parts of the book are where they explode the myth that industrial farming is some kind of driver of equality, that it provides cheap food for all and that it is somehow immoral for people to oppose it. This is nonsense because factory farming of meat drives up overall food prices because of the vast quantities of grain and soya required to feed the animals. Factory farms deliver low cost (and lower quality) meat to people in the developed countries at the expense of cereal prices rising in the poorest parts of the world. As the 'Hundred-Dollar Hamburger' chapter makes clear, this then eventually does impact negatively on the price of an average bag of shopping in the UK as well.

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