As sad as it is for me to say, the current food and farming system is creating catastrophic change as it contributes to climate change, global famine and malnourishment, damaging our planet to the brink of disrepair. Parts of our conventional food system harm nature, people, communities and civilisations in the wild and urban world.
Did you see Michael Mosely’s two part documentary on meat? The first part considered health and, at the risk of me massively over-simplifying an hour-long programme, seemed to conclude that eating fresh meat is fine but processed meat may increase your chance of cancer.
The second part considered environmental effects. This, I felt, focussed far too much on production of green house gasses and ignored other environmental impacts. The man at a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) in America cheerfully said his was the green way to raise cattle. He completely ignored the fact that his animals lived in a barren, grey wilderness reminiscent of a concentration camp. There was not a single plant, insect, butterfly, bee or bird to be seen. This is not my vision of green farming.
Any environmentally friendly, sustainable farming system needs to include protection of biodiversity and care for the land itself. Grass stabilises the land and prevents desertification, so grass and grazing animals naturally bring environmental benefits. The manure that the animals produce fertilizes the land so that it retains its nutrients. Contrast this with the CAFO animals whose dung is a problematic waste to be disposed of and whose food is corn grown using artificial fertilizers in a cycle that depletes that land and pollutes the water.
Large areas of some countries are given over to growing crops like corn and soy, in huge mono-culture farms, just for animal feed. The natural diet for cattle is grass. Corn and soy cause health problems for the animals and change the profile of the meat to higher omega 6 content and lower omega 3 so the meat is less good for us – there was no mention of this.
Take a look at www.sustainablefoodtrust.org/true-cost
Top tip: Buy grass-fed, local meat.
“We stand, in most places on earth, only 6 inches from desolation, for that is the thickness of the topsoil layer upon which the entire life of the planet depends.” (R Neil Sampson)
Usually the only magazines I buy are The Big Issue and a TV guide but recently I bought an issue of Country Life because HRH The Prince of Wales was guest editor. He has run Duchy Home Farm organically for 30 years and he understands farming.
One topic Prince Charles wrote about was soil. Research by University of Sheffield suggested that the nutrients in the soil will run out in 100 seasons if we carry on as we are. Other researchers think 60 years unless we start to reintroduce more sustainable practices now. Forty percent of the world’s agricultural soil is now classified as either degraded or seriously degraded (meaning that 70% of the topsoil is gone). Our soil is being lost at 10 to 40 times the rate it can be replenished. In some parts of the world over-intensive farming has created desert.
Growing plants use 60 minerals and trace minerals which they draw from the soil. Artificial fertilisers do not replace all these trace elements; they focus on three that make plants grow quickly and give high yield: nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Sadly this means that the mineral content of our food is reducing. Animals and people need diverse minerals. As the soil becomes depleted, we can suffer from deficiencies that affect our health.
We often see farmers muck-spreading in Cumbria; it gives the land ‘heart’. Don’t moan about the smell, rejoice in the goodness going back into the soil!
Top tips – support our good local farmers.