Damage caused by industrial food production

marksimonbrown mark at tlio.org.uk
Thu Feb 22 15:27:14 GMT 2007

Do we need industrial food production?
by Keith Parkin
Ref: www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2007/02/362714.html

Do we need industrial food production, is there not a better way? 

'The true measure of agriculture is not the sophistication of its 
equipment, the size of its income, or the statistics of its 
productivity but the good health of the land.' -- Wendell Berry 

'Without tending to do so, large-scale ventures seem to reduce 
ecological richness and human-scale endeavors to trivialities.' -- 
Paul Hawken 

'A healthy farm culture can be based only upon familiarity and can 
grow only among a people soundly established upon the land; it 
nourishes and safeguards human intelligence of the earth that no 
amount of technology can satisfactorily replace. The growth of such 
a culture was once a strong possibility in the farm communities of 
this country. We now have only the sad remnants of those 
communities. If we allow another generation to pass without doing 
what is necessary to enhance and embolden the possibility now 
perishing with them, we will lose it altogether. And then we will 
not only invoke calamity – we will deserve it.' -- Wendell Berry 

The outbreak of H5N1 bird flu at the Bernard Mathews poultry farm in 
Suffolk, has caused many people to not only question whether they 
want this form of food production, but to vote with their feet. 
Although supermarkets have reported a fall of poultry sales of only 
10%, Bernard Mathews has seen their sales slump by 40%. 

The food industry would say this form of food production is 
inevitable, that there is no alternative. They are wrong, very 

Last September, the Food Programme on BBC Radio 4 featured a farm in 
the USA, I think it was in Virginia. Sheep, cattle and hens were 
raised. The sheep and cattle would graze a field. The hens would 
then be moved onto the fields in mobile arks. The arks would be 
moved every few days. The hens scratch around, eating parasites, 
they manure and dig the pasture, but are never in one spot too long 
for disease to build up. 

A friend has a small farm high up in the mountains in Tenerife, in 
the foothills of El Teide. He grows sweetcorn, beans, potatoes, and 
a wide variety of other crops, around the perimeter of the fields 
are over 200 fruit trees. Hens and ducks roam the fields during the 
winter and early spring, at night they are returned to their pens. 
The hens and ducks root around, digging up weeds, eating pests, 
manuring the fields. Eggs are laid in little nooks and crannies 
around the farm. As crops are grown, the hens and ducks are slowly 
restricted in where they can roam. 

Walk into an industrial poultry shed, housing upwards of 1,000 birds 
in semi-darkness. The one thing that hits you is the strong smell of 
ammonia. The birds have ammonia burns on their feet through standing 
in their own shit. Any disease spreads through the sheds like 
wildfire, as we have seen with the recent H5N1 avian influenza virus 
at Bernard Mathews. 

Free-range poultry breathe fresh air. By rooting around, they fill 
their guts with a range of bacteria which makes them better able to 
resist disease. 

Salmon farming in Scottish lochs is an environmental disaster. The 
lice-ridden fish are penned in cages. Large amounts of chemicals are 
needed to keep disease down to manageable levels. The effluent 
output is equivalent to the sewage output of a small city. The 
seabed below the cages is a dead zone. Compared with their wild 
Atlantic cousins, the farmed salmon are fat and flabby. 

Fish farming is not new. Medieval monks practiced fish farming. The 
difference is they worked with nature, not against. In France, in 
the Dombes region in eastern France near Lyon, fish are still farmed 
in ponds and lakes, a system that dates from Medieval times. 

Fish farming is normal practice in south east Asia. Ducks roam the 
flooded paddy fields. Fish are also introduced. The ducks manure the 
fields, the fish eat the larvae of the pests. Both ducks and fish 
provide additional food. 

Beef rearing units in the US generate huge lagoons of slurry. 

In Cuba, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the US embargo, 
they lost access to cheap oil and agrochemicals. As a consequence 
they were forced to go organic. Fields in the transitional stage 
showed a drop in productivity, but the organic fields are as 
productive if not more productive than the chemical doused fields. 

Industrial agriculture places the emphasis on monoculture, the 
output of only one crop is measured. Multi-culture has many crops. 
Although the output of the main crop may be lower, the combined 
output is higher. 

Work carried out by Vandana Shiva and others, shows that intensive 
multi-cultures are more productive. 

Food writer Colin Tudge has put forward the idea of a World Wide 
Food Club. Farmers and artisans produce quality food for discerning 
food lovers. A similar idea to that proposed by the Slow Food 

This has happened in Saxmundham, the small market town that said no 
to Tesco. It has bucked the trend of widespread closure and 
bankruptcy of small shopkeepers. It still has a butcher, baker, 
fishmonger and greengrocer. These shops in turn provide outlets for 
local producers. 

Industrial agriculture has become a business, a business that is 
trading in the global market place, where the market dictates what 
is produced and the price. 

We need to return to farmers producing for their locality, where 
what is produced is suited to local conditions. 

An emphasis on the production of basic staples, potatoes, wheat, 
maize, beans and peas and other pulses. Horticulture practiced. 
Cattle and sheep grazed on pastures best suited. Pigs and poultry 
fitted in wherever, fed on the leftovers. Small-scale biofuel 
production or power generation. 

We need to work with nature, rather that trying to kludge nature 
with an overdose of chemicals to work with us. 

If we look at all the great culinary traditions, we had dishes with 
copious amounts of grains and pulses, but very little meat. These 
were dishes which were adapted to what the farmer produced, who in 
turn was attuned to what nature was best at providing. These dishes 
exhibited great variety. 

We are in danger of creating a monoculture of the mind, where we all 
shop and eat in the same global shopping mall, where everywhere 
looks the same, where we all wear the same clothes, listen to the 
same music, eat the same junk food. All controlled by global 




Joanna Blythman, Shopped: The Shocking Power of British 
Supermarkets, Fourth Estate, 2004 

Joanna Blythman, Bad Food Britain, Fourth Estate, 2006 

Jose Bove and Francois Dufour, The World is Not for Sale: Farmers 
Against Junk Food, Verso, 2001 

Brian Donahue, Reclaiming the Commons: Community Farms and Forests 
in a New England Town, Yale University Press, 1999 

Fast Food Nation, March 2006 {DVD} 

Heather Coburn Flores, Food Not Lawns, Chelsea Green, 2006 

Hygiene 'lapses' at bird flu site, BBC News on-line, 16 February 

Andrew Kimbrell (ed), Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial 
Agriculture, Island Press, 2002 

Corby Kummer, The Pleasures of Slow Food, Chronicle Books, 2002 

Corby Kummer, The Pleasures of Slow Food, The Ecologist, April 2004 

Felicity Lawrence, Not on the Label: What Really Goes Into the Food 
on Your Plate, Penguin, 2004 

Caroline Lucas, Stopping the great food swap: Relocalising Europe's 
food supply, The Greens/European Free Alliance, European Parliament, 
March 2001 

Helena Norberg-Hodge, Think global ... Eat local, The Ecologist, 
September 2002 

Helena Norberg-Hodge, Todd Merrifield & Steven Gorelick, Bringing 
the Food Economy Home: The social, ecological and economic benefits 
of local food, International Society for Ecology and Culture, 
October 2000 

Helena Norberg-Hodge, Todd Merrifield & Steven Gorelick, Bringing 
the Food Economy Home: Local Alternatives to Global Agribusiness, 
Zed Books, 2002 

Old, New 'Factory Farming', Food Programme, BBC Radio 4, 18 February 

Keith Parkins, Localisation: A Move Away From Globalisation, 
www.heureka.clara.net, November 2000 

Keith Parkins, Sowing Seeds of Dissent, Indymedia UK, 6 September 

Keith Parkins, Seeds of Dissent, September 2004 

Keith Parkins, Renewable energy: biofuels and local power 
generation, Indymedia UK, 17 February 2006 

Keith Parkins, Seedy Sunday Brighton 2007, Indymedia UK, 6 February 

Keith Parkins, Avian influenza, Indymedia UK, 9 February 2007 

Keith Parkins, Why do we feed our kids junk food?, Indymedia UK, 12 
February 2007 

Keith Parkins, 'It's safe to eat if cooked properly', Indymedia UK, 
12 February 2007 

Keith Parkins, Bernard Mathews given the all clear to ship live 
birds into exclusion zone, Indymedia UK, 13 February 2007 

Keith Parkins, Bad Food Britain, to be published 

Carlo Petrini, Slow Food, Columbia University Press, 2004 

Nick Routledge, The future of farming, Seed Ambassadors, 18 January 

Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, Penguin/Allen Lane, 2001 

Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, The Ecologist, April 2004 

Super Size Me! {DVD} 

Colin Tudge, So Shall We Reap, Penguin, 2003 

Colin Tudge, Feeding People is Easy, Pari Publishing SAS, April 2007 

More information about the Diggers350 mailing list