Book Reviews by Barbara Gardner
Sixty Harvests Left
by Philip Lymbery
As the third book in Philip Lymbery’s Farmageddon trilogy, this is a must read book for anyone who wants to understand the environmental threats now facing our planet, and who also wants to know what transformational change is required to stop them.
Taking its name from the chilling warning made by the United Nations that the world’s soils could be lost within a lifetime, Sixty Harvests Left uncovers how the food industry is threatening the planet. Put simply, without soils there will be no food – game over. And time is running out.
This book could not have been written by anyone more experienced and knowledgeable on the subject than Philip Lymbery. He is Chief Executive of the international farm animal welfare organisation Compassion in World Farming (CiWF)and President of the European animal advocacy group Eurogroup for Animals. He has played a leading role in many animal welfare reforms, including Europe-wide bans on veal crates for calves and barren battery cages for laying hens. He was appointed an ambassadorial ‘Champion’ for the UN Food Systems Summit in 2021. He also spearheaded CiWF’s engagement with more than 1,000 food companies worldwide, leading to genuine improvements in the lives of more than two billion farm animals. His first book in the trilogy, Farmageddon was listed as a book of the year by The Times, while his second book, Dead Zone was selected as a ‘Must Read’ by the Daily Mail.
Whereas Philip travelled the world visiting intensive farms for his first book and dead zones for his second, he wrote Sixty Harvest Left from his home on a farm hamlet in England during lockdown, with his rescued dog Duke as a writing companion, travelling the world virtually using Google Earth.
The book is framed around the four seasons and we are currently heading towards autumn and the leaves are beginning to turn. As we live our lives as if the planet has no boundaries, we are at risk of heading towards a perpetual winter. This is because our industrial farming practices are destroying the soil, one the Earth’s most important, and overlooked, ecosystems. Without the soil, we cannot produce food, and without food, we are doomed.
We destroy the soil by repeatedly growing monocultures year after year, without giving the soil time to rejuvenate, using destructive fertilizers that pollute the ground and rivers, and pesticides which kill much needed insect life. Ploughing also destroys the soil. Healthy soil is a sequester of carbon, but poor soil releases carbon into the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change, and this is compounded by the destruction of forests, which would once have absorbed carbon, to make way for intensive agriculture. Philip points out that the livestock sector alone produces more greenhouse gases than the direct emissions of the world’s planes, trains and cars combined. Yet, in the world’s efforts to reduce atmospheric carbon, this fact is mostly ignored.
But the warning is not without hope. We can turn things around and return again to spring. Philip wants a global agreement at UN level to move away from industrial agriculture towards plant healthy diets, and he recommends a manifesto for restoring the soil – his ‘three Rs’. The first is Regeneration which can be achieved by using mixed, rotational farming systems, including free range farm animals. The second is Rethinking how we eat and changing our sources of protein from meat to alternatives such as plant based food, meat cultured from stem cells, and precision fermentation, all of which are now available. The third is Rewilding to restore the biodiversity in the soil.
There is only one way to achieve the three Rs – end factory farming!
Much of what Philip says in Sixty Harvests Left is echoed by George Monbiot in his book Regenesis, and I would recommend reading both books. There is a difference however. In Regenesis, George Monbiot calls for an end to animal farming altogether and for people to adopt a plant based diet. He highlights space as a problem when feeding a world of over 7 billion people. He argues that if you keep free-range farm animals, they just take up more space. Philip, on the other hand, calls for an end to factory farming and a return to small scale, free range farming, where the animals form part of the rotational crop system and contribute to the quality of the soil by returning nutrients to it. He does, however, recognise that regenerative agriculture can work using ‘underground livestock’, i.e. the worms, grubs and bacteria in the soil – the system recommended by Monbiot.
What I found really exciting about Sixty Harvests Left was the review of the new and novel ways that we can produce protein without using animals. As vegans and vegetarians have always known, plant based food provides plenty of protein and other nutrients, and can provide a far more healthy diet than that derived from meat. But now there are even more options. There’s plant based milk and its products, such as vegan Magnums, Greggs’ vegan sausage rolls, plant based burgers and vegan KFCs and a range of Beyond Meat products. But for those who don’t want plant based alternatives, cultured meat can now be grown. By using meat cells, more cells can be grown to produce meat in a lab. So die-hard meat eaters can continue to eat actual meat, without the animal abuse and cruelty. Also precision fermentation can be used to produce meat, where specific strains of microbes are altered or ‘programmed’ to produce precise proteins or other ingredients.
I thoroughly recommend Sixty Harvest Left, and indeed the other two books in the trilogy, Farmageddon and Dead Zone. If world leaders read and act on the recommendations of these books, then our future could be bright. If not, then we are doomed to a perpetual winter of starvation and hunger, with less than a lifetime’s worth of harvests left, as our rich fertile soils degrade and become like the American dustbowls of the 1930s.
Bloomsbury Publishing 2022
by George Monbiot
In his brilliant new book Regenesis, environmental campaigner and Guardian columnist, George Monbiot explains how modern farming is the world’s greatest source of environmental destruction. But it is the one we are least prepared to talk about which is why, by highlighting it, this book is so important.
We criticise urban sprawl, but farming sprawls across thirty times as much land. By ploughing, fencing and grazing great tracts of the planet, felling forests, killing wildlife and poisoning rivers and oceans to feed ourselves, we have destroyed the environment – and still millions go hungry. And now the food system itself is beginning to falter. But as well as highlighting the problems, much of which revolve around the destruction of the soil and the excessive space that our current agricultural systems require, George demonstrates how we can resolve these problems and feed the world without devouring the planet. By understanding the world beneath our feet and working with the tiny lifeforms that inhabit it, we can grow more food with less farming. There is hope for a better, sustainable future. By restoring these living systems and working with the soil, rather than against it, we can replace the age of extinction with an age of Regenesis.
Having spent a lifetime exploring the world’s wildlife and ecosystems, from rainforests to oceans, George one day realises that the Earth’s greatest, and mostly overlooked ecosystem, is the earth beneath our feet. Soil which has been subjected to industrialised farming can be desolate. But healthy soil is teeming with wildlife, from bacteria and microscopic creatures, all the way up to giant animals such as worms and ants. This triggers a new dawn of exploration for him as he sets out to study this vast and vibrant ecosystem – the rhizosphere. What he discovers is amazing – the world of bacteria, fungi, underground chemical communication systems between plants, and plants knowing when to return nutrients to the soil and when to use them. This section makes a fascinating read in itself. But also, from an understanding of this, we can learn to work with the soil to farm far more productively, without the ploughs, chemical fertilizers or pesticides which are so destructive to the soil and the surrounding environment.
George highlights how modern industrial farming makes us vulnerable and exposed to a total global collapse of the system, based on his knowledge of systems theory which was taught in his ecology degree, but which is rarely taught elsewhere. He shows us how these vulnerabilities caused the 2008 global banking crisis and how these same vulnerabilities will cause a crash in the global farming system if we do not act to change things. A farming crash occurred in America in the 1930s where industrialised agriculture resulted in dustbowls, although back then this was contained within the area involved. Today, our international interconnectivity and interdependency will mean that such a crash will not be contained. Systems need resilience and this requires four features – redundancy, modularity, circuit breakers and back-up systems. Back in 2008, the global banking system lacked these, which left it exposed and caused a domino effect of collapse that spread contagion throughout the world. This, George predicts, will happen in our globally interdependent farming systems too.
The book goes on to explain how we can prevent this. We must adopt high yield, low impact regenerative agricultural systems, and we must stop animal farming. Not only does animal farming pollute land, rivers an oceans, and use antibiotics which leads to antibiotic resistance, but it takes up huge amounts of land, particularly for growing the crops required to feed animals. This uses far more land than if the crops were fed directly to humans. It creates huge monocultures which destroy ecosystems, particularly the soil ecosystem, and requires the destruction of vast amounts of rainforest. And such systems release huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, instead of sequestering them in the soil.
Unlike Philip Lymbery in his book Sixty Harvests Left (also recommended), George thinks there should be no animals in the regenerative agricultural system. He argues that although there may be fewer animals in a free range system than in an industrial system, free roaming animals take up more space. He basically says that adopting a plant based diet is the only way to save the planet and feed everyone.
George then comes up with some very exciting suggestions about how we should feed the world sustainably. He divides food into three categories – vegetables and fruit, cereals, and protein and fats. For cereals he recommends regenerative agricultural systems, including crop rotation systems, which avoids ploughing and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and which restores the soil and keeps it productive. For protein and fats he recommends, not plant based meat substitutes or stem cell meat substitutes, but precision fermentation (although in reality there will probably be a hybrid system). Precision fermentation is where bacteria are used to grow proteins. The advantage of this are that it is space saving, can use natural energy and can produce a wide range of very authentic tastes, which plant based foods struggle to achieve. Without industrialised agriculture, large areas of land can be rewilded, restoring the environment and capturing carbon.
George foresees a future where such foods replace the current industrial farming system, where animals no longer need to be cruelly treated and used. He sees a social tipping point when 25% of the population have turned to the new approach. Someone once said that Henry Ford did more to save carriage horses from cruelty than any animal welfare campaigner, because the new technology he developed made the carriage horse redundant. Maybe the same will be the case for farm animals? The new technology of precision fermentation may make animal products uncompetitive and too costly, and may achieve more to end farm animal cruelty than the animal rights movement ever achieved. Let’s hope so.
I would thoroughly recommend reading Regenesis. If world leaders understood the impacts of industrial farming on the environment and climate and acted on it, we could live in a food secure and environmentally safe world. It’s not just carbon emissions from fossil fuels that we should fear, although this seems to be the main focus of many environmental campaigners, the major source of our environmental problems, as George Monbiot points out, stems from the industrialised farming system. This is a must-read book for anyone seriously wanting to save the planet.
Penguin Books 2022
Animal Welfare in World Religion
by Joyce D’Silva
In her new book, Animal Welfare in World Religion: Teaching and Practice, Joyce D’Silva examines what the five major faiths, in terms of their numbers of followers – Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism – and other world traditions say about our relationship with animals, and how our treatment of animals compares to their teachings.
Joyce points out the huge anomaly that over 80% of the world’s population claim to belong to a faith and that these faiths teach that all animals should be treated with respect and kindness, some saying that the divine dwells within all animals. And yet, humans are responsible for huge amounts of animal suffering, in entertainment and laboratories, for example, but particularly in farming where 80 billion land-based animals and between half a billion to one billion farmed fish are raised and slaughtered every year for our consumption, most in cruel factory farm systems. In addition, there are over a trillion wild-caught fish consumed by us every year. How can humans reconcile their practices with the teachings of the faiths they claim to adhere to? Joyce takes up this challenge.
Joyce is particularly well placed to do this. She is a former Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming, the leading farm animal welfare campaign group in the world, and is now its Ambassador Emeritus. She has been awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Winchester and the University of Keele, and is the author of many books on animal welfare. She is a patron of the Animal Interfaith Alliance. Many authors have written about what their faith says about animal welfare and some have written books about what each faith says about animal welfare (see Books – Faith & Animals – Animal Interfaith Alliance (animal-interfaith-alliance.com)). What is unique about Joyce’s book is that she examines modern practices in our treatment of animals – in farming methods, wildlife and biodiversity, hunting and sport, caring for animals, diet and eating animals, slaughter and vivisection – and compares them with the teachings of the world’s faiths.
Joyce examines why there is such a huge discrepancy between what the faiths teach about animals and how the followers of those faiths treat them today. This discrepancy is caused partly because people ignore or are ignorant of the teachings of their faiths, preferring to continue the practices handed down to them, rather than referring to the original texts and practising their teachings. And it is partly because the literature of the faiths themselves are inconsistent, with texts having been built up over millennia by different people from different places and cultures. Take Christianity, for example. Not only were the books of the Old Testament written by many different people over many decades with many different views, but post Christian interpretation of the teachings have been varied and often contradictory. The main books were selected by the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century AD to form the New Testament, but there were many other texts that were excluded, so we do not see the full reports on the life of Jesus in the New Testament. Then, when it comes to animals we have two schools of thought. Firstly, there are the examples of the lives of the Saints, who lived with and protected animals, with their ‘Franciscan’ view of a sisterhood and brotherhood with the animals and the natural world, and secondly there is the ‘Aristotlean-Thomistic’ view which says that man is superior to other animals, as man has reason and a soul which animals do not have, and that animals are there for our use. Today we have very unclear and opposing views in Christianity concerning our relationship with animals. Unfortunately for the animals, the Aristotlean-Thomistic view has become dominant. These same contradictory views can be seen in Judaism and Islam for the same reasons, with some sections based on the lives of the saints and mystics, who practice kindness to animals and vegetarianism, and other orthodox sections who, for example, argue for slaughter without stunning. In Hinduism we see sections who carry out mass sacrifices, such as in the Gadhimai festival in Nepal, and others who practice ahimsa and vegetarianism. Our faiths have, in truth, offered us total confusion. Probably the only example of a faith which is clear about how we should treat animals is the beautiful and ancient Jain faith, which promotes ahimsa that says that no animals should be harmed, so they do not farm, slaughter, eat or use them in any way.
But despite this, as Joyce points out, all faiths have wonderful teachings about how we should treat animals with respect and kindness, even if we are not prohibited from using them for food and other uses. Joyce refers to these teachings in her book and provides important references for all faith practitioners. I would strongly recommend that people read the book and become familiar with these references.
This is a modern book, which not only looks at the ancient teachings and practices of the faiths, but looks at the views of very modern theologians who are living in today’s world of mass animal cruelty, that the writers of the ancient texts could not have imagined. Could the writers of the prescriptions on the most humane way to slaughter an animal for food in an ancient desert wilderness have had any comprehension of the factory farm of the 21st century? Their prescriptions could have been very different if they had. Joyce brings in the views of today’s modern theologians who can apply their faiths to today’s world – and she describes that world very thoroughly.
But away from all the teachings and the dogma, I leave you with a quote from Saint Isaac the Syrian (613-700 AD) who, for me, sums up what faith is about – compassion: “What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals… and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pours forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation”.