Philip Lymbery | Reform Farming to Avert Global Crisis
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Reform Farming to Avert Global Crisis

We have all ‘suffered alike’ Says Independent RSA Commission

Our current industrialised food and farming system has become “one of the main drivers of human and ecosystem crisis”, according to a new and influential report by the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission.

The independent inquiry, chaired by Sir Ian Cheshire and comprising of stakeholders from across farming, business, civil society and academia, calls for immediate and far-reaching action to tackle a food and farming system that has driven wildlife and soil losses, deforestation, pollution, ill-health and has depleted finite resources, to an extent where “people and planet have suffered alike.”

The Commission’s findings are clear: that nothing less than a fundamental shift in the way we produce and consume food will be necessary for a genuinely sustainable future. “We have relied for too long on the hope that future technologies can repair the damage caused by this. Time is running out,” it said.

A ‘Framework for Change’ is proposed, which includes the recommendation for a ten-year transition plan for sustainable, agroecological farming, innovation to unleash a ‘fourth agricultural revolution’, and new economic measures to redress the damage done by ‘perverse incentives’ like subsidies in one part of the farming system, which drive unforeseen consequences elsewhere.

For far too long, agricultural subsidies have driven intensification of food and farming, creating an environment in which factory farming has thrived.  As I have long argued, there may not be specific line items in subsidy budgets that you can identify as the ‘factory farming’ subsidy; but that subsidies have driven intensification across Britain and Europe is inescapable.

It is hugely welcome to see the RSA report calling so strongly for fundamental change in food and farming; rather than damaging chemicals and cages of intensification, a move to agroecological methods which work with nature and produce healthier food.

Under the heading, ‘Healthy food is everyone’s business’, the report describes healthy and life-enhancing diets as meaning “more and better fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and pulses, less and better meat and dairy, with livestock products coming from climate and nature-friendly production”.

Although surprisingly absent from its executive summary, the report suggests that animal welfare should be included in the definition of sustainable agriculture.

As I recently argued in my recent article outlining factory farming’s role in the environmental crisis, animal welfare is central to the overall battle to save the planet.

A confined and crated, exhausted looking sow

After all, it is removing farm animals from the land, putting them into cages, crates and confinement on factory farms, that has been a big reason for the declines we now see in wildlife, the countryside and food quality. By turning living sentient creatures into animal machines on factory farms, we have created both the biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet and a major driver of wildlife declines worldwide. Cruelty to farm animals and nature’s demise go hand-in-hand.

It is hugely welcome therefore to see the tide of opinion changing.

For decades now, it’s been hard to get serious policy debate on the breadth and scale of reforms necessary to protect the interests of people and animals today as well as tomorrow. Often policy makers have merely attempted to tinker with reform; making a fundamentally cruel and damaging system less so.

Now the debate appears to moving to a new and urgent phase; not, why should we change, but how do we do it. Fundamentally. Across the board. For all our sakes.

This greatly positive new attitude sweeping public and policy debate has come just in time. As the report says, time is running out.

Compassion will remain at the forefront of calling for change.

The question for society now is, whether we can act together to change things fast and far enough.