Farmageddon by Philip Lymbery (with Isabel Oakeshott): Book review


Mike McCarthy
Friday 07 February 2014 01:00 GMT

One of the inescapable facts of the modern age is that America does everything first and the rest of the world follows. America gave us electricity and aviation and extra-terrestrial travel, and recently it has given us social media, and the electronic devices which make that possible. So far so good. But now it’s giving the world something it can do without: mega-farming.

The mega-dairy, the mega-piggery, the mega-beefery, are things which may not yet have impinged on your consciousness, not only because it is in the US that they have taken off, but because they are invisible anyway: this new, mammoth-scale livestock rearing takes place behind closed doors, in enormous, soulless sheds, where thousands upon thousands of animals are kept crammed and tightly restricted on concrete floors, for the whole of their lives.

It’s perfectly logical. In the spiritual home of capitalism, it’s merely capitalism’s first principle, the maximisation of profit, applied by big companies to the management of livestock, with ruthless efficiency. But in terms of animal welfare it is hideous, and it brings in its train a whole series of extremely serious new environmental problems (not least how to dispose of the millions of tonnes of excrement such facilities produce).

Philp Lymbery head of the estimable British charity, Compassion in World Farming, sounds the alarm about the arrival of mega-farming in his remarkable new book Farmageddon (co-written with the journalist Isabel Oakeshott). It is not a vegetarian rant. It is not anti-meat. But it is an unforgettable indictment of the new hyper-industrialised agriculture originating in the USA which is now spreading around the world.

Lymbery has travelled the world to document it, starting in California’s Central Valley, whose mega-dairies can have 10,000 cows being milked in once place – 100 times the size of a British dairy herd. He looks at the gruesome mega-piggeries taking off in China and he shines a riveting spotlight on the repulsive fishmeal industry of Peru, where millions of tonnes of anchovies are dragged from the sea merely to be ground up as fishmeal for livestock feed.

Along the way he raises a raft of new concerns, one of the most sensitive and controversial being that vets, in contrast to their benign James Herriot image, have to a large extent sold out to agribusiness and are now on the side of the accountants rather than the side of the animals.

It is the most timely of warnings. Three years ago, plans for Britain’s first mega-dairy, an 8,000 cow facility in Lincolnshire, were thrown out after a public outcry. We’ve lived with factory farming for a long time and we probably thought it couldn't get any worse. But it can – if we let it.

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