How to Love Food and Save Nature

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Lake Toyoni, Hokkaido, Japan

As a lifelong naturalist who lives on a farm, I am acutely aware of how food, nature and the countryside are interlinked.

Only this spring, I watched a field being ploughed, only to discover that the soil had no worms. The local gulls that follow ploughs came to the same assessment and quickly flew off. A grassy patch that attracted a prospective pair of scarce woodlarks was ploughed under. Then came the chemicals spraying weeds away and insects too that would otherwise feed hungry wildlife with their seeds and larvae.     

It reminded me that there are two sides to factory farming.

The first where vast numbers of farm animals are caged or crowded. Chickens where they cannot flap their wings. Mother pigs crated so they can’t turn around for weeks at a time. Cattle taken out of fields and fed grain instead of grass.

Sheep grazing at White Oak Pastures, USA | Credit: Philip J Lymbery

All of which looks like a space-saving idea but actually isn’t, because vast acreages of precious arable land elsewhere have to be devoted to growing their feed – factory farming’s second side. In fields like the wormless one. Crop monocultures in artificial fertilisers, doused in chemical pesticides, leaving the countryside a green desert.

No wonder the United Nations (UN) warns: carry on like this, and soils worldwide could be useless within just sixty years.

Far better then to have a future-fit fusion of food, nature and animal welfare.

To keep animals as nature intended, in nature-friendly farms where they can move freely and experience the joy of life, fertilising the land naturally. Mixed with crops that don’t need chemicals because nature-friendly farming uses natural predators and disease control instead of chemicals and drugs. Worms instead of wormless. Soils instead of dirt.

This is regenerative farming, producing great food in a thriving countryside. I’ve seen farms like this over the world. Amongst the best is White Oak Pastures in Georgia, USA, where pasture-raised chickens follow sheep who follow cattle in a rich mix of life.

Will Harris of White Oak Pastures, USA who turned his back on factory farming to pursue regenerative farming

They all have one thing in common: they farm in harmony with nature, producing great food in ways that benefit animal welfare. All we need is a lot more of them.

Change is urgently needed; time is running out.

Which is why we need to seize the opportunity of next year’s UN Food Systems Summit to move toward a global agreement to end factory farming. To reset our food system. To regenerative, restorative farming, with nature, not against her.

In this way, we can genuinely love food, save nature and have aspirational animal welfare whilst protecting the future for our children.

Now, what’s not to love?

Today’s blog is taken from my speech at the special Webinar co-hosted by Compassion in World Farming and the United Nations Environment Programme, which took place last Friday, 11th December. The first of its kind, the Webinar was also supported by the EAT Foundation, a non-profit founded by the Storladen Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, dedicated to transforming our global food system through sound science.

A film of the highlights of this event will be ready shortly.

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