Too late to do nothing
Gilly Smith talks to Philip Lymbery of Compassion In World Farmng about his book Sixty Harvests Left and how we ’ ve run out of time to say we ’ re running out of time
Philip Lymbery , global CEO of Compassion in World Farming is busy on his laptop as I gaze out of the Eurostar window at the blur of green farmland between Calais and Brussels . “ Where are the cows ?” I ask idly . “ I haven ’ t seen any cows for hours .”
It ’ s 2017 and Philip and I are on the way to the European Parliament where he ’ ll host a conference about the impact of factory farming on the planet , which I ’ ll record for an episode of his podcast that I produce called Stop the Machine . Philip sighs and tells me a story of where the cows have gone , about the gradual and largely hidden industrialisation of some of Europe ’ s most famous foods including Parmegiano Reggiano and Grana Padana which is produced by cows who never see the light of day .
Five years later , we ’ re chatting again about his new book , Sixty Harvests Left “ a warning from the United Nations ”, a clarion call to get animals back on the land before it ’ s too late . I ask him about the outcome of the report , Hard Cheese that Compassion in World Farming published about that trip of his through the Po Valley to investigate the real story behind our most popular cheeses .
“ It was about raising the issue that cows belong in fields rather than spending a lifetime in barns , sometimes even tethered ”, he told me . “ Some of them can ’ t even walk around the barns . We have started a dialogue with the producers in the consortium behind Parmesan and Grana Padana cheeses , but progress is slow . We need to keep up the pressure .”
It ’ s more than just the massively important welfare issue ; “ I believe they ’ re misleading consumers who believe that the cows are living more bucolic lives . But it ’ s also that this intensification of farming practice is causing wider harms to the countryside . So things need to change .”
Philip has painted an apocalyptic vision of the impact of food production on the planet in his books Farmageddon and Dead Zone : Where The Wild Things Were . In Sixty Harvests Left , he picks up the soil where farmed animals once grazed , naturally fertilising the land and providing rich pickings for the bugs and worms , and shows us what our junk food culture has done to it .
“ Our soil has been disappearing at such a rate that the UN has warned if we carry on like we are , then we have just 60 years left before our soils are gone ,” Philip tells me for my podcast Cooking the Books with Gilly Smith . “ No soil , no food . Game over .’
Philip is one of the most important campaigners against factory farming . He and I have worked together on his podcasts Stop the Machine and The Big Table , and he ’ s appeared with me on the delicious . podcast and Right2Food , the voice of the Food Foundation in a bid to change the food system . He ’ s clear about the relationship between buying supermarket BOGOF chicken in shrink wrapped trays , burgers from junk food outlets that contribute to the destruction of rain forests , the lungs of the earth as Philip calls them , to grow grain to feed cattle that should be naturally fertilising our soils .
“ It ’ s all inherently connected and not in a good way through factory farming . Animals like pigs , chickens and hens have been taken out of pastures and woodlands and kept in cages . And that industrial production of animals is usually accompanied by the industrial production of crops using chemical pesticides and fertilisers and monocultures of
cereals and soya and similar crops .
And in that transaction , what happens is that intensive production drives out biodiversity . It means that the bees that are needed for the pollination of our crops see their numbers plummet . It means that while birds and other animals disappear , the forests are wiped away . And as soils go into decline , so does the future of our food system .’
But Philip ’ s book is hopeful ; if we change the way we eat and stop buying factory farmed meat , get the animals back on the land to naturally fertilise the soil , nature will do the rest , bringing the bugs and insects , the worms that aerate it and bring the life back .
“ I do think that there is a portfolio of solutions . Eating more plants , eating less but better meat , milk and eggs making sure by better making sure it comes from pasture fed free range organic . So broadly speaking , regenerative food sources , I think that ’ s really important .”
Buying better sourced food , eating 30 % less meat or going vegan or vegetarian – there will be enough meat eaters to support the high welfare farmers – is a no-brainer and reduces the weekly food bill . But it ’ s not enough ; we need to be asking every restaurant waiter or chef where they source their meat , fish and dairy . At a particularly sparkly launch this summer , I asked the chefs where their ingredients came from . They hadn ’ t a clue . I wrote to the PR company . No reply .
We ’ re blessed with great restaurants in Brighton , and most of them shout loud on their menus and their social about their ethical sourcing .
Check out this issue ’ s Feedback for a list of Brighton ’ s favourite restaurants which are doing the best by us and the planet