We seem to have stirred up something of a hornet’s nest after writing a letter to The Guardian in response to George Monbiot’s article ‘Goodbye - and Good Riddance - to Livestock Farming’.
That this is the vegan stance is a given. It may even be an arguable, ethical, human dietary pinnacle. But we are where we are and that is not going to change overnight or even in the next 100 years, based on current trends.
What we are trying to explore, in our own tiny way, is this. Can we produce adequate amounts of affordable food without trashing the environment while providing our animals with a good life and our staff with a balanced and rewarding occupation, without going bust?
Conventional wisdom, driven by modern economic theory, says it can’t be done. High standards of environmental, social and ethical welfare are incompatible with farm profitability, at current prices. But in recent years, as we’ve experimented with agroecology and agroforestry, we’ve begun to question that mantra. This is not a popular line of thought in an ultra-conservative industry because if we are right, the implications are quite mind-blowing.
Our industry questions how a farm like ours can even be viable, let alone compete with industrial farms with all their public subsidy and un-costed, social, environmental and animal welfare baggage advantages. It’s a good question, and it gives us pause for thought.
Who exactly are the beneficiaries of our standard food system? Farmers with their 80-hour grafting weeks, pittance returns and up-to-the-neck debt? The environment with biodiversity collapse, record diffuse pollution, soil erosion, resource depletion and climate change? Dairy cows with record levels of transmissible and non-transmissible diseases, record short productive lives and increasingly kept indoors all year?
Or you, the ultimate consumer of our ‘cheap’ products bought at vast taxpayers’ expense through subsidies and clean-up costs. Is ‘cheap’ food worth the issues of antibiotic resistance and pesticide residues in our over-sterile, over-processed food?
This is the question we would encourage George Monbiot to ask, not whether it’s better to be vegan, vegetarian or omnivore. Nor even the relative plant and animal productive capability per hectare.
The big question is this: Why are industry leaders and policy makers needlessly pursuing both plant and animal food production systems that are, quite frankly, costing us the earth?
What price cheap food?