Exactly two years ago, Joanna Lumley and a host of leaders from the food movement packed into a London bookshop for the launch of ‘Farmageddon: The true cost of cheap meat’.
Since then, the global reaction to the book and the idea that we can go beyond factory farming has been overwhelming.
We held book launches, media tours, meetings and speaking slots across Britain, Brussels, South Africa, India, the US, Canada, Czech Republic, Poland, Italy and France.
The book has since been published in non-English language versions in Japan, Taiwan, Poland and Italy. Versions are now being prepared for launch in Finland and China.
Wherever I go, one question comes up time and time again; how did the title, ‘Farmageddon’ come about?
And to answer it, I have to tell you a personal story.
When I sat down to write the book five years ago, I wanted it to be accessible to a mainstream audience; people with no previous experience or interest in animal welfare and the environment.
I wanted it to have real-world examples that did more than recycle already published facts. I wanted to take the reader on the journey of a lifetime…
That’s how I ended up in California with Sunday Times journalist, Isabel Oakeshott.
The sunshine state has plenty of icons of modernity – like Silicon Valley, Hollywood and all.
California is also seen as the spiritual birthplace for farming practices now being peddled by European policy-makers under the seductive term, ‘sustainable intensification’. This term seems to act like a Trojan Horse for more industrial farming. Europe is under increasing pressure to adopt US-style mega-farming. I wanted to see the reality of these things for myself.
So what happened?
In California, Isabel and I hopped in a truck and headed off to Central Valley, the beating heart of America’s ‘Land of Milk and Honey’, where so much of California’s agricultural produce comes from.
What we found was a landscape covered in a carpet of monocultures – single crops grown in vast, uniform patches stretching as far as the eye could see. We stood amongst massive almond groves with perfectly regimented trees.
And as we stood amongst those neat rows, I said to Isabel, ‘Listen… just listen….’. And do you know what we heard? Nothing. Not the chirp of a bird or the buzz of a bee. They’d all gone.
What we did hear was the low thud of a helicopter spraying chemical pesticides over crops to keep nature at bay. It was part of a daily chemical assault on the landscape; from aircraft, land-craft and people in protective suits.
No wonder then, that nature has broken down.
Bees are essential for the pollination of much of the world’s crops, yet in California, the wild ones had gone.
That is why California now witnesses one the the world’s biggest man-made animal migrations. Every year, 40 billion bees are brought into the state on the back of 3,000 trucks. Artificial hives are put out amongst the crops for six weeks to do what nature can no longer do. After which, they are then gathered up and taken on to the next eco-stricken state.
We squeezed into a small plane to look down on this monotonous landscape.
From the air, it looked like a vast patchwork quilt – great squares of single colour. Every now and then, we came across what looked like vicious scars on the landscape. They were mega-dairies, each one with up to 12,000 cows in a single muddy paddock, not a blade of grass in sight. Beside them were lagoons as big as an Olympic-sized swimming pool holding all the cows’ muck.
No wonder then, that Central Valley has such problems with water and air pollution. Impoverished local communities are forced to buy bottled water because the drinking water is contaminated. At a local school, the children can’t have the windows open in summer because of so many flies. And a popular T-shirt in the area asks the question, ‘Got Asthma?’.
I said to Isabel, for agriculture, this is what some people see as a vision for the future. She looked at me and replied, ‘This doesn’t look like a future, this looks more like Farmageddon’…