Book of the month: Farmageddon by Philip Lymbery

My column in this month’s Countryman considers the devastating exposé of the global food system by Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming. In Farmageddon: the true cost of cheap meat there is a particularly grim chapter on overfishing in Peru, where the sea is being emptied of anchovies to make fishmeal for chickens, pigs and fish farmed across the world.

CPRE promotes local food webs which link farmers, processors and small shops and enhance both the local economy and the landscape. But there is clearly a much less benign global food web, linking a cheap chicken sold in Britain with terrible marine pollution half the world away.

I guess we all know that factory farming can be pretty awful for animals. What gets less attention is its impact on both farmers and the landscape. Farmageddon is full of stories of farmers pushed into poverty and subjected to terrible working conditions as mega-farms drive down prices and destroy competition. So it is surprising how keen some UK farming organisations are to promote such farms (8,000+ cows or 3,500 sows) here. A few farmers will win; most will lose.

Then there is the countryside. Where intensification has taken hold, the result is “a landscape so barren and depleted that little except the animal or crop at the centre of the production operation is allowed to thrive”. Lymbery, a keen bird watcher, is sensitive to the damage already done to wildlife and the landscape in Britain. But it is nothing to what he sees elsewhere in the world, where intensive farming and its attendant pollution has taken grip. Or rather, what he does not see. He reflects on the eeriness of standing in a valley in Mexico “surrounded by many thousands of pigs without seeing a single animal”.

Factory farming, the unsustainable end point of the ‘sustainable intensification’ that now dominates official thinking on agriculture, takes animals out of the fields and locks them away where they cannot be seen by the general public.

Thinking too hard about where ones food comes from can be depressing, but buying local food will surely help the landscape, the economy and, for meat eaters, animal welfare. And if that is not enough, it tastes better.

3 Responses to “Book of the month: Farmageddon by Philip Lymbery”


  1. 1 Cathy August 26, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Why, as I’ve asked before, don’t these interesting articles come with a twitter/facebook connector icon? Such a waste of an opportunity. Cathy Nicholls

  2. 2 Maureen Coffey September 7, 2014 at 11:37 am

    While I am all for sustainability and actually a great fan of permaculture, the “Peru, where the sea is being emptied of anchovies to make fishmeal for chickens, pigs and fish farmed across the world” remark probably has more to do with oligarchic structures in the political system of Peru than true economics. After all, once the anchovies are gone, the fishing vessels and the companies that run them lose value too. In most cases that In looked at when it came to private-property-enterprises being run on unsustainable principles (in the long run) there was some hidden government intervention, regulation, subsidy, EU “Common Agricultural Policy” US “subsidize soy farmers” or other shenanigan at play!

  3. 3 Henry Best September 7, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    The ever growing word human population encourages more intensive “factory farming”. I witnessed and smelt the harvesting of anchovies from the Humboldt Current in Callao, Peru in 1959 and predicted then that one day the anchovies would go the way of the passenger pigeon. The locals thought I was loco.


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