The pun in Farmageddon is fully justified: agriculture has seriously lost its way and since it sits at the heart of all our lives – and the lives of all other creatures – this places the whole world in danger. Modern farming fails to provide us all with good food, yet this, surely, is its purpose. Almost a billion people worldwide – one in seven – are chronically undernourished, even though we produce enough food for 14 billion – twice what we need now and 50 per cent more than the world will need this century (the UN tells us that the global population should level out at around 10 billion by 2100). But as Philip Lymbery and Isabel Oakeshott point out, about 50 per cent of what’s grown is wasted and about half of the cereal that does pull through (and at least 90 per cent of the world’s soya) is fed to livestock. We could easily produce all the meat that is needed to support the world’s great cuisines if we simply fed the cattle and sheep on grass and browse, which is their natural fare, and fed pigs and poultry on leftovers and surpluses, as was traditional.
The collateral damage is enormous. The acreage needed to produce all the soya that’s given to cattle is equivalent to the entire land area of the EU. In Argentina and Brazil, forests are felled to make way for it; in Southeast Asia and Africa they are replaced by oil palms.