This is the second in a three-part series written by Emma Silverthorn who reflects upon her grandparents, Peter and Anna Roberts, and today’s work by Compassion in World Farming.
I think Peter would have been deeply saddened but not surprised by the current state of farming in the U.K., including such developments as the recent proposal to build an 8,000 strong mega-dairy in Nocton, Lincolnshire. I think Nan would have been livid! The environmental and ethical pitfalls of such a proposition would have been clear to them both. Thankfully, a large section of the British population protested against the dairy and won.
The descriptions in Farmageddon of the monoliths already decimating California’s Central Valley will hopefully go some way to persuade those still unconvinced that American feedlots are not the way forward.
A few years ago I spent some time in San Francisco, Berkley, Point Reyes, and Los Angeles. My experience of California was the one of popular culture: organic, green, health-conscious. As a vegan, it felt like I was in an epicurean paradise! The Central Valley captured by Philip and Isabel Oakeshott are the antithesis of what I saw of the state. An area that ought to be teeming with wildlife, given the amount of produce that is grown there, is instead a dead-zone. The links to chemical and organic pollution from the mega-dairies are strong. As Philip notes in footage showing aerial views of the farms, the landscape is dotted with Olympic-size swimming pools of farming slurry. For the mainly Hispanic communities who live close by, and who provide the labour for these farms, tap water is heavily polluted and not suitable for drinking. In contrast, however, CIWF’s footage of the profitable yet humane and environmentally friendly Strauss farm in beautiful Point Reyes makes for uplifting viewing.
Nan and Peter were never only concerned about animals, as they always saw the interconnectedness of life. Their belief that factory farming not only entails a great deal of systemic cruelty to animals, but also its lack of sustainability, and cause of human suffering, is now well documented. In the early days, though, they and their ideas were regularly dismissed as cranks.
In 1985, at the height of the Ethiopian famine, Peter revealed in an article, ‘Fat Cattle and Hungry Children’, the UK imported feedstuffs from Ethiopia to feed its cattle while Ethiopian children starved.
‘Intensive animal farming’, he wrote in a CIWF newsletter, ‘stores up troubles for ourselves, for they compete with us for food. Wheat, soya, vitamins and minerals these are the basics of food for farm animals, and of famine relief food’.
An awful truth echoed in the chapter, Fish: farming takes to the water, reveals the absurd practice of trawling the Peruvian Oceans for anchovies which are ground up into fish meal and oil to feed farm animals for Western-consumption thousands of miles away. A practice which both depletes Peru’s marine life and compounds malnutrition among the poorest sector of Peru’s population. The relation between hunger and factory farming was evident over forty years ago and is even more so today, as is emphasised throughout Farmageddon, particularly in the chapter: The Hundred-dollar Hamburger: the illusion of cheap meat.
Peter was articulate and in a couple of aphorisms he summed up post World War Two intensification. He described the factory-farm ethos as: If it moves kill it. If it doesn’t spray it. He noted how humanity in taking a violent attitude toward nature would eventually find ourselves ‘threatened on all sides by disease, hunger and pests’. BSE, avian and swine flu are all examples of how over the years bad farming practices have endangered human health. Aside from these extreme outbreaks, there’s also the issue of the near constant doses of antibiotics administered to factory farmed animals. This is done to prop up bad farming systems, which leads to many bacteria becoming antibiotic resistant in both animals and humans. The results are potentially devastating. Reading the facts and personal stories gathered in Farmageddon, which echo Peter’s views, it becomes clear that the dramatic title of this book is not mere sensationalism or hyperbole.
Emma Silverthorn is the granddaughter of Anna and Peter Robert’s, founders of Compassion in World Farming. She is a freelance writer living in East London. For more of her work check out Running in Heels, Our Hen House and The London Economic.
For your copy of ‘Farmageddon: The true cost of cheap meat’, click here.