June, 2024


On the one hand who can fail to marvel at the soaring creativity of the human race? We are capable of great art, of poetry, music, architecture. We can send robots to Mars, explore the Dark Side of the Moon (never better discovered though than by Pink Floyd), navigate the mysteries of Quantum Physics embracing all the contradictions and paradox that lie at the heart of existence …and yet. And yet! We barely acknowledge and largely ignore every darn thing that threatens our planetry life, our quality of life, our fellow creatures and the simple joy of living.

For the purposes of this rant (yes it is a rant but time is short and needs must) let’s first look at agribusiness.

FACTORY FARMING. Efficient and necessary to ‘feed the poor’? – that’s what the PR people tell us. No, utterly false. See Vandan Shiva for the full answer, but no, it’s totally unjustified, it pollutes our soils and rivers, pumps endless greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, takes 40% of world grain production to inefficiently feed to animals and above all is monstrously , inexcusably cruel. We style ourselves as animal lovers in this country, although I have always doubted this having seen so many dogs that never get off the lead and are largely incarcerated for most of their lives. How can we call ourselves ‘animal lovers’ when we queue up for fast food chicken to eat some poor beleagured bird that has never seen the outdoors, never been able to express its vital instincts and been genetically engineered to gain weight at a rate that its body can’t cope with and literally breaks its own bones. If you’ve ever rehomed battery hens you will see the first thing that they do is dust bathe their wings and body, they spread themselves out in the sun in what looks like an avian form of Tai Chi and then they rootle, they scratch, they peck at the earth and they chortle with very evident joy.

1 billion broiler chickens are slaughtered in the UK every year. Just think of that, 1 billion, not to mention the 39 million egg laying hens. When I was a boy chicken was a treat, we might have a chicken once a month on a Sunday, it was large, very good to eat and had spent its whole life foraging in the open air. The remains of the chicken then kept us in hot meals in various forms for most of the coming week.

There are something like 20 million chickens in factory farms on the banks of the River Wye. The effluent from these farms is spread on the land which over nutrifies it to the detriment of pasture diversity and then floods into the Wye every time it rains. Large parts of the Wye are dying , the Wye is one of Britain’s most beautiful rivers yet we allow it to be desecrated by U.S. owned industrial mega farms aided and abetted of course by the water companies who assist the process with all their spare sewage.

And then think of pigs, those most intelligent and potentially affectionate animals. Ten million pigs are reared in concrete prisons and slaughtered every year in the UK. Their mothers mostly give birth in farrowing crates where they can’t turn round or interact in any way properly with the piglets. Pigs love to root in the ground and to lie in the sun , they enjoy the company of humans, kind ones, and will live as long as a dog (our last pig lived to the age of 17yrs) but they are denied all this by the beady eyed accountants of global agribusiness.

Can you look a factory farmed English Breakfast in the face? If yes, feel ashamed.

And if you don’t care about animal cruelty, if you’re not concerned about the greenhouse gases that arise from all the fertilisers put on the land to rear the grain that feeds the animals, if you’re not bothered about the pollution of our waterways and of the sea and the denaturing of our soils maybe just maybe you might be concerned about your own health.

Where do we think that pandemics like bird flu or swine flu come from? They may have their first genesis in wild animals but such is the normal health and resilience of wild populations that these infections are rarely a significant threat to either the wider animal population or to humans. But factory farms are turbo chargers of disease. Get a bug into the unhealthy and stressed populations in mega farms and the virus will mutate rapidly and continuously. At some point like on a fruit machine all the cherries will line up and an extra virulent strain arises, killing the farm animals, infecting the wild birds and mammals with a disease that they’ve never encountered before and then ultimately, inevitably getting into humans. This is a real and daily and ever increasing threat about which we do?….nothing.

Something like 70% of the World’s surface is now farmed in some form or other, mostly intensively. But hang on, why are we giving industrial agribusiness the honour of being called ‘farming’? Farming as practised by our forebears (and thankfully still a good number of our contemporaries, albeit a minority), farming meant rotating crops and livestock on the land. It meant maintaining natural fertility by recycling all ‘waste’ back into the soil – grass in, dung out. It meant producing food in proportion to the natural capacity of the land. No outside inputs, no chemicals, just a healthy biodiversity that allowed livestock to self medicate on a huge variety of herbal species. It meant fostering health in the land and in the hedgerows so that dung beetles could pull the dung back into the earth, so that worms would pull down leaves, stubble and all dead stuff and then ultimately be food themselves for a mass of farm and woodland birds that helped to keep off pests and bring joy to the ears of the farmer who wasn’t stuck in a cab listening to Pirate Radio.

Factory farming is squeezing the nutrients out of our land and giving back a toxic cocktail of slurry and pesticides and insecticides. To quote a local beekeeper ‘Rachel Carson would roll in her grave . It was bad in her day but now it’s far, far worse’.

So these are ‘the elephants in the room’. They are almost too many to count. I haven’t gone near the subject yet of fake meat, GM foods, industrial cattle feed lots and all the other malignant wheezes dreamt up by global corporations to make them rich while impoverishing proper farmers , desecrating nature and which will inevitably make us all sick.

So please. Wake up, get mad, support your small local producers, engage with them , exchange information , shout at politicians, join like minded people and fight for the health of this planet, for the health of your children and for all the diverse and wonderful species that we inherited on this once and hopefully future, beautiful planet.

Andrew Lane