Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat
by Philip LymberyIf you needed a good reason to eat more healthily, this book has many. And if you needed something to put you off eating altogether for a while, Farmageddon can deliver that as well.This account of the excesses and scandals of factory farming is wide-ranging and stark.
The journey begins in California, at a massive mega-dairy in the middle of the desert, a farm that makes the basic concept of cows living in pastures, seeing the sun and eating grass seem like an idyllic dream. The dairy brings problems of air and water pollution, flies, and smog. People living nearby have low life expectancy, and suffer from clusters of asthma. All that, before you consider the welfare of confined cows kept away from sunlight and fed on a diet that isn't natural for them.
In case anyone thought that this was the problem of one poorly-regulated part of the industry, the author looks at chickens in battery cages, fish farms, pigs, poultry reared for meat, soya and GM crops, and more. He examines farming around the world and in various rich and poor countries. The stories are similar everywhere: cruelty to animals, environmental damage, high risks of disease due to overcrowding, and fatty meat where animals have been confined.
In terms of the environment the book looks at how nitrate pollution in Chesapeake bay is killing off oysters, the disappearance of British birds, bees dying out, the monarch butterfly's decline, threats to wild salmon from farmed fish, and lakes and lakes of pig muck. Sometimes this pollution can be fatal, such as when poison algae on beaches affects people and animals. The author might have gone much further with examples, but the ones used were plentiful enough to hammer home the point that factory farming destroys ecosystems.
The health dangers for consumers also come under scrutiny. There's a close look at the use of antibiotics in well animals to boost growth, and the corresponding rise in antibiotic-resistant superbugs. As for the modern plague of obesity, the effects of the way animals are fed and contained on the nutritional value of their meat does not make for comfortable reading. GM crops need more pesticides and herbicides than regular ones, but what effect does all of this poison have on the people who live nearby?
When the book examines the farmers themselves, the picture isn't as rosy as might be expected. Normally when a company disregards safety, the environment, or human health it's where there's a big profit to be made, but something strange is happening. This book explains who isn't profiting within the industry, but it's less specific about who is. However, it is extremely damning about intensive agriculture's promise to feed the world, which is hugely problematic when feeding animals on grain and soya uses more land than feeding those crops directly to humans.
This is a long and thoroughly-researched book which is never boring yet frequently horrific. So it's a good job it ends on a hopeful note, because by that point readers will need something to lift the gloom. Philip Lymbery is on a mission to change people's eating habits in order to improve the lot of farm animals, and Farmageddon is packed with compelling reasons to go organic, eat less meat, and be mindful of the way food is produced.
5th April 2016
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: own copy