Friday, 16 May 2014

Book Review: Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat

Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat
Philip Lymbery, Isabel Oakeshott
Kindle Edition

Farmageddon came along at exactly the right time for me, when I was reassessing my diet and exercise habits with the goal of increasing my health and fitness levels. One thing that was frustrating me was how little information there is about the food we buy every day in the supermarkets. Though you sometimes know where it came from, there isn't any detail on how it was made, or explanations about what all those terms and ingredients really mean. Farmageddon confronts this knowledge gap face on, discussing how the intensified farming practises that are behind a significant amount of the food on shop shelves is damaging the environment, animals and us.

I already knew how horrendous the meat industry can be, and thought I was reasonably well informed. Reading Farmageddon revealed details that I wasn't aware of, and covered other areas of the farming process not related to meat. Discovering people have died from falling into vats of pig excrement, that vast amounts of antibiotics are fed to animals packed together for profit margins and that companies own the patent on GM seeds so farmers can't reuse the seeds their crops naturally drop; all of this was logical but things I had never consciously considered before.

It also offered a historical perspective on how all this intensified farming came to be, demonstrating how sensible it seemed at one time. By no means does it make farmers the bad guys, but instead shows they are as much a victim of intensified farming practises as consumers. It also does not claim that just because a farm is small or not intensified that it will treat the animals any better. Lymbery makes no bones about the fact that some of the worst places he's seen are small farms.

Written by the now CEO of the charity Compassion in World Farming, it takes a global view but inevitably focuses more on the USA, where farming practises are particularly intensified compared to Europe. The charity have long campaigned for farm animals to be treated respectfully and for their suffering to be as limited as possible, and I like that at no time in the book did I feel that I was being criticised for choosing to eat meat.

Understandably the work of the charity is also a feature of the book but it doesn't feel like an attempt at self promotion or a self-congratulatory monologue. Instead it's a demonstration that no matter how bad practises may be right now, they can get better. Campaigns, consumer pressure and government action can all prevent the disaster that awaits us if we continue to give animals large doses of antibiotics, if we continue feeding crops suitable for humans to animals instead, if we continue to chop down rainforests to make way for those same crops. It's hard not to be convinced by the end of the book that our current push for intensified farming is not sustainable and ultimately self-destructive.

If you care at all about animal welfare this is a must-read. If you care at all about what the food you eat could be doing to you or your family, this is a must-read. The truth is hard to swallow (sorry, couldn't resist) but this is vital information for everyone to know.

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