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How sustainable is intensive agriculture?

News Icon 08/01/2015

I had the privilege of speaking at the Oxford Union Debate last night and, while the setting was new to me, the subject matter was certainly not. I spoke in support of the motion that intensive agriculture is no longer sustainable. You can hear the main argument I made in this interview with the BBC’s Farming Today programme before taking the floor.

I would like to thank the organisers of the Oxford Farming Conference for their kind invitation and to my seconder on the night, Charlotte Johnston, who did a great job in putting across our case. I was pleased to have the chance to speak directly to members of the UK’s farming industry and to debate with such worthy opponents in Caroline Drummond and Chris Manley.

Hats off to the organisers in being willing to bring in myself and other voices to the conference this year to challenge thinking and I appreciated the chance to do just that. Whilst the debate was good natured and in the spirit of entertainment, there is no denying the serious underlying message that the environmental bedrock needed for Britain’s farming future is breaking down. We can see this in the warnings of only a hundred harvests left in Britain’s soils, of greater reliance on water-intensive livestock production when water availability is decreasing, and in the disappearance of once common farmland birds, bees and butterflies.

It is clear to me and a growing number of concerned voices in the food and farming industry that there is an urgent need for a complete rethink of food policy. The push for greater intensification – threatening to take Britain’s farming way beyond the brink of sustainability – is based on the myth that we need to ramp up food production. The reality is that we already produce enough food to feed everyone on the planet now and into the future if only we didn’t waste more than half of it. The biggest form of food waste is in feeding human-edible grain to intensively reared animals. The time to think a different path is now while we still have a choice.

Again, many thanks to the organisers for inviting me, to the debating team on both sides for an enjoyable evening, and to the warm reception I received from conference-goers; greatly appreciated.


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