Wednesday, 26 November 2008

A disaster of our own making

I’ve just watched a DVD of Dr Michael Greger’s warning on bird flu. In his view the H5N1 strain threatens to be the greatest human catastrophe in all history, with the possibility of deaths around the planet exceeding those of AIDS and the world wars combined.

Photo Credit: CIWF/Martin Usborne

I’ll spare you the gory details. Let’s just say it’s not a good way to die. Dr Greger is Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture for the Humane Society of the United States. He’s not one for over-statement. But in his talk in Washington DC he likened the possible impact of a bird flu plague to an Indian Ocean tsunami striking every town and city in the world.

He quotes Dr Robert Webster – the world’s leading authority on bird flu – as saying: “We’ve never seen such an event since the time of the plagues.”

I don’t mind admitting I was scared by this DVD. But more than that, it made me angry. Because if this catastrophe happens it won’t be a natural disaster – it’ll be one of our own making. According to Dr Webster, we’ve created this threat by rearing chickens in their tens of thousands in factory like sheds.

In effect we’ve produced the ideal conditions for the emergence of a virus strain that could wipe out half the word’s population. By buying cheap chicken – and by allowing farmers to keep them that way – we collude in an experiment that could cost the lives of billions.

The cause of this threat is a moral bankruptcy in our treatment of animals. Our materialistic society produces food animals as if they were plastic mouldings on a factory production line. We need to treat animals better if we are to have a future on this planet.

We could make a start by letting then out of their sheds and cages, and putting them back on green pasture where they belong. That way we’d all be healthier and our children might have a future on this planet.

To read Dr Greger’s latest book – Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching – visit

Thank you to CIWF/Martin Usborne for the use of the pictures.

For further reading please follow the link to read a report from the CIWF on The Role of the Intensive Poultry Production Industry in the Spread of Avian Influenza

Saturday, 15 November 2008


On a visit to Switzerland I made a quick detour to Vevey, a little town on the edge of Lake Geneva. Set among the vinyards this was once the home of Charlie Chaplin, his escape from the America of the McCarthy era. It's also the home of corporate giant Nestle, the world's biggest food company. Nestle runs a food museum in the town.

It's called Alimentarium and it's housed in a rather fine old building that used to be the company's HQ before they built their steel and glass palace just along the lake-side.

Nestle is the subject of a long-running campaign as a result of its marketing of branded baby milk to mothers who'd be better off breast feeding. Which is quite a neat summary of what all food companies do – replace natural, nutritious foods with inferior, processed ones. Nestle's brands include Cheerios, Kit Kat, Carnation, Munch Bunch and Maggi 2-minute Noodles. You get my meaning. Well anyway, with a collection like that I was interested in what they'd have to say on

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. The food museum was well laid out with imaginative, hands-on displays that got you thinking about what you ate and how it might affect you. Particularly revealing was a display on the food culture of the local area - Switzerland's Vaud
canton. I learned that diets in the region were strongly influenced by rural traditions. Meat was at the heart of the main meal, with cheese an integral part of many cooked dishes. Regional products linked the local cuisine to vinyards, farms and mountain pastures, we were told.

What's interesting is that the Swiss are a very healthy nation. In the international league tables of life expectancy they're right up there with France, well ahead of Britain. Yet in this part of the country, at least, they're eating diets high in red meat and dairy foods, the ones we're told are loaded with saturated fats and will kill us in no time at all. I've long thought this was a load of bunk. The foods people have eaten for thousands of years didn't suddenly get to be unhealthy. We just started producing them the wrong way, that's all. When, as in Switzerland, they're from animals raised the natural way –on pasture – they're very healthy foods.

That's one of the key messages I took away from the Alimentarium, though to be honest I knew it when I went in. That and the fact that a boycott of processed products might just turn out to be very good for your health.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Corporate Spin

How on earth did the biotech industry manage to get their PR message plastered across a whole news page of The Times? (November 3 2008)

The headline ran: “GM bean could help prevent heart attacks.” What followed was a thinly disguised publicity puff for Monsanto’s latest gift to humanity – a GM soya bean whose oil apparently raises blood levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in people who consume it. This will protect them against heart disease and diabetes, we’re told, while speeding the growth of brain cells in the young.

The best source of long-chain omega-3s is, of course, fish oil. That’s why the Food Standards Agency recommends that we all eat a portion of oily fish each week. But as The Times reminds us, fish stocks are fragile. It seems we’re about to change our hostile attitude to all things GM when the new soya oil turns up in our yogurts, salad dressings and cereal bars.

Quite why journalists are so ready to swallow this corporate mythology is beyond me. The fact is there are safer, healthier ways to get omega-3 fats even if the supply of fish oil does run short. For a start would could free our cattle from their factory farms and put them back on fresh, green pasture as nature intended.

Many industrial countries now house beef cattle in vast sheds and feed them on industrial grains – the sort agribusiness companies like Monsanto supply the chemicals to grow. There’s plenty of evidence that grass-fed beef contains far higher levels of omega-3s – including the important long-chain variety – than the beef of cattle fed on grains.[i]

One of the reasons our diets are now so dangerously low in omega-3s is that industrial farming chooses to feed grains to ruminant animals in place of grass.

To add a sort of spurious objectivity to its biotech promotion, The Times carried a comment piece from the director of Rothamsted Research, a publicly funded agricultural science institute. Not surprisingly the research chief was generally in favour of GM technology, suggesting that the world may need it to feed a soaring population.

It’s a technology that also happens to support tens of thousands of science jobs around the world. In the 1970s the British research establishment identified genetic engineering as a priority area. They persuaded governments to pour millions into this area of research. Between them taxpayers and large corporations have staked billions on biotech research, which is why scientists are so keen to promote it.

What the world urgently needs is research into biodiverse, carbon-capturing, healthy food-producing agriculture. But the corporations won’t fund it because there’s not likely to be a lucrative product for them to sell at the end of it. And governments won’t fund it because they’ve been conned by corporate science into believing the only productive form of farming is the high-input variety.

It isn’t, but until the politicians, science and the media begin to seriously scrutinise the corporate view nothing much is going to change. The rest of us will have to put up with a more polluted planet and a less secure food supply than we need have done.

* If Rothamsted scientists are interested in finding out more about sustainable forms of farming I’d be happy to lodge a few copies of The Carbon Fields with the institute’s library.

[i] Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2006; 15 (1): 21-9

Thursday, 6 November 2008

New Hope for Real Milk

I was shocked at the news of the demise of Daisy's dairy. Perhaps I shouldn't have been, considering the problems that our current agricultural system is suffering from.

My new book published this month, 'The Carbon Fields' uses my many years of research to lay out the argument of where our farming has gone wrong and how we can improve our lives with what we eat. To buy the book have a look here; The Carbon Fields.

In the meantime, have a look at the excerpt of an article below that I wrote for the website, or to read the full article click here; New hope.

"With all the mayhem over the banking crisis, no one much noticed the closure of a small, farm dairy in Hampshire. Except, that is for the hundreds of local families who thought their neighbourhood milk the best they’d ever tasted. For them the demise of Daisy’s Dairy was little short of a disaster.

Now there’s news that this pioneering dairy may re-open under community ownership. It could provide a blue-print for bringing fresh, healthy, local milk back to neighbourhoods all over the country.

Before the set-back few who tasted Daisy’s milk ever wanted to go back to the supermarket version. They found it far fresher and more flavoursome than any shop-bought milk – better, too, than the milk delivered by big dairy companies. James and Helen Hague, who ran the enterprise from their small farm at Rotherwick, near Hook, pulled out all the stops to produce healthy milk and get it onto the doorsteps of local families in double quick time."

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Time to go against the grain.

Below is an article I wrote for the Guardian about the impact that modern farming is having on our countryside, our pockets, our environment and our food.

My new book published this month, 'The Carbon Fields' uses my many years research to lay out the argument of where our farming has gone wrong and how we can improve our lives with what we eat. To buy the book have a look here; The Carbon Fields.

In the meantime have a look at the Guardian article below or to read the full article click here; Against the grain.

"On commodity markets, the price of wheat is barely half what it was a year ago. And as it falls, more food prices look set to tumble. But before cracking open the Bollinger, the Brown cabinet would do well to ponder the implications of having food prices so closely bound up with commodity movements.

Our food supply is now more dependent on globally traded grains than at any time in our history. This makes it inherently unstable and vulnerable to the kind of catastrophic meltdown that threatened the banking industry. First, there's the danger of extreme weather events, worsening as a result of climate change. Grains are at risk both from heavy rainfall and from drought, and this year's rain-drenched harvest was saved only by a fine spell in September.

Then there's the reliance of wheat farmers on oil. To grow the crop, they need diesel to power their giant machines, whose very manufacture requires barrels of the stuff. Then there's the oil contained in the chemical fertilisers and pesticides, without which their over-worked soils would scarcely grow a thing. Little wonder, then, that wheat price movements reflect almost exactly the rollercoaster fluctuations of the oil market. Finally, our grain-based food supply is largely controlled by commodity traders and brokers - speculators now dictate the price and availability of many foods on our supermarket shelves."

Buy the amazing new book The Carbon Fields by Graham Harvey now at