A piece by Mike Shipley reflecting on the real cost of Factory Farming
Factory Farms are built on the foundations of Poverty and Hunger.
Foston is back in the news this week. The Soil Association has written to Midland Pig Producers, the company behind the proposed 25,000 pig unit, asking them to withdraw their planning application. A final decision on this protracted process is expected this month, although the County Council seems to be content to sit on the application saying that they are waiting for the Environment Agency to decide on an operating permit before giving a decision.
In the letter, Soil Association Director, Peter Melchett cites the overwhelming opposition to the project from local people, with 20,000 objections, and the on-going uncertainty that is affecting the lives of local residents. Melchett also reiterates the health concerns associated with these industrial scale animal units, saying that the evidence is becoming stronger that their high levels of antibiotic use is weakening the human immune system.
Naturally MPP have rejected these arguments. They play the line that these mega-units are essential if food prices are to be kept down. It is easy to argue that in times of austerity, and low wages, people come to rely on cheap food. Greens reject this simplistic argument for a number of reasons.
Firstly we reject austerity. This is a callous and unnecessary economic strategy designed to bring about a massive transfer of wealth and therefore power from the poor to the rich. Secondly we reject the low wage policy that most Government have followed since the industrial revolution. We call for a Living Wage policy that enables people to pay for the requirements of life in an advanced and civilised country. This includes being able to afford to pay for sustainably produced food, as much as possible produced locally.
While MPP might try to claim that they will source their animal feed locally, this blurs a more complex picture in which intensive meat production is being made possible by the globalisation of food markets. This leads to increasing food prices through the operation of market competition for a finite resource, and it leads to the breakdown of local supply chains. The net result of the drive for cheap food for us is hunger for others.
A report by Friends of the Earth Europe this week throws some light on to this issue of cheap food, and asks who is paying for it. [http://www.foeeurope.org/meat-atlas ] It makes clear that it is the growing demand for cheap meat that is fuelling a global food crisis. A demand encouraged by big food producers because there is far more profit to be made from meat eating than from a vegetarian diet. At any one time there are 59 billion animals awaiting to be consumed as human food. These animals have to be fed, and the process of feeding them is taking land away from growing crops that we could eat. One third of the world’s cultivatable land is used to grow food for farm animals. They consume 40% of the world’s grain crop, and demand is rising. To meet this demand, land has to be farmed more intensively, this means pushing out the small farmer through farm amalgamations, leading to a new wave of rural disposed people heading for the cities. Bigger farms are capital intensive, reliant on machinery that is reliant on oil, that is running out and getting more expensive. They need artificial fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, derived from oil, supplied by multinational companies whose demand for profit helps to further push up the price of food. And to solve the food crisis that they have helped to create those same companies develop GM crops that only they supply, enabling them to control the world food market.
That’s the price of the cheap food that mega animal units produce. People pushed off the land and into destitution. Global food production controlled by market forces that push up prices in the name of profits, leaving the poor unable to pay the price of a staple diet. We might have our cheap burgers, but it is at the price of poverty and hunger for millions in the less developed world.
The Green Party rejects this globalisation of food production, only the rich nations can win in an open market for commodities, and our food is now regarded as a tradeable commodity used to make profit for financial institutions. In the drive for ever more production and profit, more land will be taken from nature, reducing biodiversity and displacing more people. The demand for fresh water will grow, already 70% of the world’s freshwater is used for agriculture, water resources in some areas are strained to breaking point as million have little access to clean water. This will lead to conflict as nations and regions see their precious water supplies shrink and become polluted by intensive agriculture.
This madness has to stop, it is in no one’s long term interest. This is why we oppose the mega-pig unit at Foston. It is a symptom of the global madness that is leading to the destruction of the very fabric of the natural world that we all rely on for survival. There is an alternative, it is laid out very clearly in the Green Party’s Food and Agriculture policy. It won’t make millionaires, but it will make wholesome food available to everyone, regardless of age, status or place of residence. And for us, that is what food and agriculture policy should do.
[ Food and Agriculture policy can be found at: http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/fa ]
[Mike Shipley January 2014]