It was a privilege to interview Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming and author of Farmageddon, at the Hay Festival Winter Weekend.
We discussed his latest book Sixty Harvests Left. Lymbery has travelled the world highlighting the horrors of factory farming and how it is driving habitat destruction, biodiversity loss and climate change, whilst perpetrating terrible animal cruelty. It seemed fitting to welcome him to the chicken capital of the UK, with the Wye Valley home to over 20 million chickens, the vast majority of which live miserable, cramped lives in warehouses, before being slaughtered at six weeks old. Lymbery believes, as he writes in his book, that this form of farming will come to be seen as the “cruelest folly of our time. Like the slave trade, we will wonder how we let it happen”.
I learned a lot from Lymbery’s travels and eye-witness reportage, including the fact that the vast majority of Italian parmesan and Gran Padarno cheese comes from dairy cows who have never been outside. They may be ‘grass-fed’, but that grass is hoovered up by machines and conveyed to them in warehouses.
Lymbery’s book has much in common with George Monbiot’s book Regenesis. Both authors highlight the extraordinary life-giving importance of soil and lament that too often we treat soil like dirt. They also largely share the same analysis of the problems posed by industrial farming, but diverge when it comes to solutions. Lymbery champions meat from organic, pasture-fed ruminants. Monbiot argues that such meat can’t feed the world without devouring the planet.
As a proponent of eating 'less but better’ meat, Lymbery said that the UK needs to reduce its meat consumption by 70 per cent. I asked how much meat and fish we could reasonably expect to eat whilst enabling any kind of nature recovery. He told me:
In the very near future, a couple of times a week. Two pieces of meat, probably each one being about the size of a pack of playing cards.
Both Lymbery and Monbiot agree that we need to see a huge dietary shift towards plant-based foods. They are also both hopeful about new technologies that can produce meat without the cruelty or land footprint.
We need a revolution in food labelling (so consumers know where their food comes from) and we need restaurants, cafes and public buildings to offer us a far greater variety of vegan food, so we’re enticed to make better choices.