Brussels: I was delighted to speak today at the European Parliament’s sustainable food conference, to share key findings from Farmageddon. I spoke about how the biggest single area of food waste on the planet was in feeding vast quantities of human-edible crops to industrially reared farm animals. I talked about the ‘ghost acres’, massive areas of land, often on other continents, used to grow feed for animals on Europe’s factory farms.
The conference, chaired by Edward McMillan-Scott MEP, was timed to influence the EU Commission’s sustainable food communication, likely to be the biggest opportunity to shake-up Europe’s food system for a decade or more.
It was a privilege to share the panel with distinguished speakers, including Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. As always, De Schutter was incisive in summing up the global food situation. He told the 150-strong audience how we are in danger of trying to solve 21st Century problems around food and agriculture with answers from the 1960s.
Half a century ago, food production needed a major boost to match a fast-growing world population, something thankfully achieved with great success. Fifty years on, the world produces enough food for everyone today and in the foreseeable future; sufficient for 11 billion people or more, if only we didn’t waste half of it.
Truth is; food has become so plentiful that we bin it, let it rot, or feed it to industrially reared livestock. Production isn’t the big problem anymore; instead, it’s the quality, integrity and health of our food, the countryside and how we make food available to everyone instead of sharing it with factory farms or landfill whilst a billion go malnourished.
Today’s conference had a recurring theme; the production-led approach has outstayed its welcome. We need a food policy in Europe, not just an agricultural policy. We should “abolish the whole agricultural policy”, said Sirpa Pietikäinen MEP, instead having a “directorate for food”, charged with providing healthy, diverse diets produced in humane, low-impact ways.
De Schutter too called for a new sustainable food policy, seeing agricultural policy that targets production as an “obsession of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) since the 1960s”.
Yet, vested interests still believe the answers to today’s problems lie in more production. Industry lobbyists push ‘sustainable intensification’, an oxymoron if ever there was one; a new term that amounts to little more than business as usual.
It was Albert Einstein who said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Never has this quote been more applicable than in today’s agriculture and food arena.
It seems today’s food problems won’t be solved by the production-level thinking of half a century ago. In the cold light of the 21st Century, industrial agriculture, with its wastefulness, inefficiency and animal cruelty, seems like no solution at all.
Please purchase a copy of Farmageddon – The True Cost of Cheap Meat here.