Cheap food

Isn\’t it just terrible?

But West fears it will lead to more intensive units to produce cheap meat for Britain.

An actor is worried that we might solve humanity\’s oldest problem. How to produce enough for everyone to eat.

24 thoughts on “Cheap food”

  1. No, that’s not what he’s worried about.

    He’s worried about animal welfare and the problems such intensive units have with disease control, leading many of them to use antibiotics preventatively.

    Cheap food is good, but there are minimum standards of welfare necessary when dealing with intelligent animals like pigs, and these units fall short of them.

  2. Peter and D. West are absolutely right, Tim is probably the wrongest he’s every been about anything.

    Out of Problems Facing The World Right Now, antibiotic resistance is climbing fast up the list, to the point where it’s likely to be a bigger problem worldwide than “do people have enough to eat” by mid-century. And it already is a bigger problem in the developed world (a friend of mine – in her 30s, not frail or otherwise long-term sick – caught c.difficile last month and spent a fortnight in the ICU).

    This is properly scary stuff, and threatens the whole “if you get a bacterial infection, you won’t die any more” thing we’ve become used to over the last 60 years. Anyone defending the use of antibiotics in farming, which is the only way to make such intensive units viable, should be made to die a painful death from an otherwise curable infection.

    At the same time, intensive meat-farming does *absolutely nothing* to solve the problem of “do people have enough to eat”, because it converts food that could be eaten directly by humans inefficiently into animal protein. Grazing is the only form of meat farming that provides food in aggregate.

    And intensively farmed meat tastes like crap. I’m an enthusiastic carnivore and even a hunting supporter, and think PETA are a bunch of cnuts, but defending intensive meat-farming is knee-jerk contrarian wankery.

  3. Speaking as probably the only commenter here who actually owns pigs, you can certainly cut costs by treating them cruelly, but it’s wrong.

  4. “At the same time, intensive meat-farming does *absolutely nothing* to solve the problem of “do people have enough to eat”, because it converts food that could be eaten directly by humans inefficiently into animal protein. “

    And add to that the barmy craze for biofuels, which turns food into fuel we already have an alternative for, at the behest of the eco-loons…

  5. Although he is only an actor is right to be concerned about the systematic use of antibiotics.

    I think many modern farms take the issue of welfare seriously and I agree with your earlier commenter who pointed out that pigs are highly intelligent animals and it behoves us as a civilized people to adhere to certain standards when it comes to animal welfare as it does when it comes to looking after the weakest in our society.

    Sorry for sounding like a lefty, I’m not .

  6. JM: there’s *some* argument for sugar cane based biofuels – although they still do turn food into fuel, the process is both highly efficient (sugar > ethanol = simple) way of turning food that isn’t a great source of nutrition (getting your 2,000 calories a day from sugar isn’t a brilliant plan) into something that’s definitely useful. There’s absolutely no argument at all for biofuels based on corn, beet, or any of the other *ravingly stupid* biofuel schemes happening outside of Brazil and Australia. As is often the way with economics, this is highlighted by the fact that sugarcane ethanol is profitable in its own right, whilst all of the other schemes aren’t.

    RlJ: Indeed I don’t own pigs, although my stepmum’s family do and I’m quite a pig fan. I was trying to avoid the ‘cruelty’ point in my response above, just to highlight that it isn’t even *necessary* to be concerned about cruelty to think that intensive animal farming is a really bad idea.

  7. I think even unintelligent animals should be treated ‘humanely’ (for want of a better word), and I write as someone who loves a bloody steak.

  8. “At the same time, intensive meat-farming does *absolutely nothing* to solve the problem of “do people have enough to eat”, because it converts food that could be eaten directly by humans inefficiently into animal protein. “

    Rubbish. Animals eat stuff we wouldn’t or can’t eat and turn it into protein, fat and stuff that we can eat. Think welsh or NZ sheep, pigs, cattle and chickens which happily scoff on hill grass, scraps, low grade grains, silage and, yes, rubbish. I’ve seen goats happily scoffing on all sorts of stuff including cement bags.

    And the nutrition that animal fat and protein provide is much easier to turn into the sort of stuff our bodies need.

    Even intensive farming takes food that would struggle to be passed for human consumption and turns it into milk, steak, lamb’s liver and bacon. Mmmm, Bacon.

    You can have my steak and kidney pie when you pry it from my cold, dead, lips.

  9. Kevin: re the first couple of paragraphs, that’s why I used the word “intensive”, whilst making the specific point about grazing.

    On the intensive farming topic, you’re also wrong. Food that’s used as animal feedstock – mostly corn in the US, but a wide range in Europe – is easily processed into entirely edible human food, for far less energy input than passing it through an intensively farmed animal.

    Animals *can* be fed meat that isn’t fit for human consumption, but last time we tried that one for animals that we eat, it didn’t work out so well.

    Gotta love it when someone’s *so* fucking stupid and bigoted that, when they see a pro-carnivore comment that criticises intensive farming, they react to it by pretending they’re being asked to Never Eat Any Meat Ever by some vegan fruitloop.

  10. “Gotta love it when someone’s *so* fucking stupid and bigoted that, when they see a pro-carnivore comment that criticises intensive farming, they react to it by pretending they’re being asked to Never Eat Any Meat Ever by some vegan fruitloop.”

    Problem is John, we’ve seen our country ruined by the traitors in government. So we know that what starts out as a seemingly perfectly acceptable request soon turns into something else…

    The result – plenty of people, including myself, will automatically attack anything that looks like it could be used to further any sort of filthy lefty goal.

  11. “Gotta love it when someone’s *so* fucking stupid and bigoted

    Way to win friends for your cause there John.

    As for “far less energy input than passing it through an intensively farmed animal ” doesn’t the animal provide a lot of the energy? Anyway, let’s let the market decide. Oh wait. We did.

  12. Kevin B
    But it isn’t the market that has decided, or nearly ever decides. It’s the ability of the bigger businesses self promoting that decides what becomes ‘market leader’.

    Hence soya and beef is allowed to ruin rainforest, and kids in the ‘first world’ are brought up on lecithin and meat full of hormones.

  13. Kevin – well, if you pass judgement on what I didn’t write based on the views of nutters who I’ve expressly said I hate, then what other word is there?

    Also, the animal provides no energy. It doesn’t absorb chlorophyll. It solely digests what it’s fed, and turns it into wandering about, breathing and farting. Intensive farms minimise the first of the above, which is both why they’re cheaper and why the meat they produce tastes grebby.

    As Arnald says, the “market” point is nonsense – at the moment, intensive farming is cheaper because intensive farms aren’t charged for the antibiotic resistance they create (and Doug’s link highlights that a simple ban on regular dosing doesn’t do any good – intensive livestock farms inherently breed antibiotic resistance). Tragedy Of The Commons – as I said to a daft lefty earlier, economists thought of all of this stuff a hundred years before we were born.

  14. Its very simple – if you don’t want factory farms, ban them in the UK, and ban imports from outside the UK that come from them as well. Then you will have to pay considerably more for (particularly) pork and chicken, as they are the most intensively farmed meats, in the UK anyway. Very little beef is farmed intensively, and no lamb.

    But don’t want it both ways – no factory farms here in the UK where you have to look at them, but demand cheap meat from abroad which is produced using methods that are out of sight, out of mind. That’s very hypocritical.

    Of course you’d have to leave the EU (and probably world trade bodies as well) but hey, I can live with that.

  15. So Much For Subtlety

    john b – “Out of Problems Facing The World Right Now, antibiotic resistance is climbing fast up the list, to the point where it’s likely to be a bigger problem worldwide than “do people have enough to eat” by mid-century.”

    But what has it got to do with intensively reared animals? This is a convenient whipping boy but I am not sure the evidence is so strong for an actual connection. But blaming agribusiness is easier and more ideologically acceptable than blaming junkies or dysfunctional medical systems – like most of those of East Asia where you get given antibiotics for a cold.

    “Anyone defending the use of antibiotics in farming, which is the only way to make such intensive units viable, should be made to die a painful death from an otherwise curable infection.”

    Antibiotics are mostly used to make the animals grow slightly faster. It is entirely possible to rear chickens intensively without them. They can and do survive without much trouble. Isolation is your friend. However you are assuming that the biggest problem here is animal-related use. As opposed to, say, lazy nurses.

    “At the same time, intensive meat-farming does *absolutely nothing* to solve the problem of “do people have enough to eat”, because it converts food that could be eaten directly by humans inefficiently into animal protein. ”

    It can but it does not have to. What is more when it does, it does not convert food that humans would eat normally. Americans do not eat a lot of maize. They turn a lot of it into sugar, admittedly. But if you banned its use as animal feed, people in Mali would not become better fed. Americans would just grow less corn. The problem with Mali is poverty, not a lack of opportunity to grow food. Animal use does not displace one single human consumer.

    And the core of many animal feeds is stuff no human would eat – scrapie leapt the species barrier because cows were being fed sheep carcasses. They are routinely fed chickens too. Sugar cane waste in parts of the world. Chickens are often fed any old crap but the basis of their diet used to be cheap fish meal. Until the government did the usual stupid knee jerk thing, pigs were fed restaurant scraps.

    “Grazing is the only form of meat farming that provides food in aggregate.”

    Viewing corn production as a zero sum game is asinine. So you’re wrong.

    “And intensively farmed meat tastes like crap. ”

    That is certainly true. Animals should not be reared this way for all sorts of reasons. But not the reasons you have given.

  16. “Animal use does not displace one single human consumer”

    I never claimed it did. In theory, the
    US’s surplus maize could be shipped to Mali, of course – I agree that obviously it wouldn’t be.

    “Viewing corn production as a zero sum game is asinine”

    I literally don’t understand what this sentence means. Corn production in the US requires more fossil fuel input than the calorific value of the corn (if Americans could just get their calories from petrol, that’d be more efficient), but I don’t think that’s what you were trying to get at.

  17. So Much For Subtlety

    john b – “I never claimed it did. In theory, the
    US’s surplus maize could be shipped to Mali, of course – I agree that obviously it wouldn’t be.”

    Really? So when you said:

    “At the same time, intensive meat-farming does *absolutely nothing* to solve the problem of “do people have enough to eat”, because it converts food that could be eaten directly by humans inefficiently into animal protein. ”

    What did you mean precisely? Intensive meat production produces more meat for people to eat. It does so without taking any food from anyone else. Thus it makes a contribution to feeding the world without imposing any cost on food stocks at all. How is feeding people doing nothing to feed the world?

    “I literally don’t understand what this sentence means.”

    Because you can’t or because you don’t want to? The supply of corn is not fixed. It is not the case that if you feed some corn to animals in the North you are taking food from some people in the South – as you seemed to claim. The more demand there is, the more corn is produced. The more we feed to pigs, the more is grown.

    “Corn production in the US requires more fossil fuel input than the calorific value of the corn (if Americans could just get their calories from petrol, that’d be more efficient), but I don’t think that’s what you were trying to get at.”

    No, I don’t either.

  18. Are you a total fucking idiot, or do you just play one on blogs?

    The food that is used in intensive farming could be eaten by people. That is a fact. Whether it would be economically viable to produce it in the absence of intensive farming is a matter for debate (it’s more likely that land currently used to farm maize would be converted into wheat production than totally abandoned IMO).

    In order to believe that there is no net loss in the world food supply from feeding animals 10x the calorific value that their meat provides, you’d have to assume that 90% of the resources currently used to produce feed for intensively farmed animals would be dedicated to uses other than producing food for people. What’s your suggested alternative use for land and labour in the US’s corn belt that *doesn’t* involve agriculture?

    The more demand there is, the more corn is produced.

    You’re aware of this ‘land’ thing, right?

  19. What sort of society have we become when cheap food/intensive farming that becomes so more important than any care for animals.

    Sure we have to farm and we eat meat, but there is a line, and we seem to be going backwards. I read this blog most days but don’t usually comment, however, I don’t think I’ve read a more heartless post from the blog owner.

  20. So Much For Subtlety

    john b – “Are you a total fucking idiot, or do you just play one on blogs?”

    Son, some free advice, if you make a total fool of yourself on the internet, don’t make it worse by getting angry and spewing insults. Take it like a man. Admit you were wrong. Move on.

    Best advice you’re going to get this week.

    “The food that is used in intensive farming could be eaten by people. That is a fact.”

    Some of the food used in intensive farming could be eaten by people. I agree, that is a fact.

    “Whether it would be economically viable to produce it in the absence of intensive farming is a matter for debate”

    No it isn’t. It is not open to debate. It is also a fact. If you reduce consumption, you reduce demand, and you reduce production.

    “(it’s more likely that land currently used to farm maize would be converted into wheat production than totally abandoned IMO).”

    I suspect you might be right. However that would just push some other marginal land out of wheat production as we eat pretty much all the bread we want as it is.

    “In order to believe that there is no net loss in the world food supply from feeding animals 10x the calorific value that their meat provides, you’d have to assume that 90% of the resources currently used to produce feed for intensively farmed animals would be dedicated to uses other than producing food for people. ”

    It hardly matters. People remain hungry because they are poor. Not because there is a limit on the amount of food we can grow. If we reduce the amount of corn we feed pigs, that corn ain’t going to Somalia. Except as aid. It won’t get grown. We were in agreement on this so it is odd to see you back tracking. One thing I would guess we can agree on – farmers don’t produce corn if they don’t get paid or if the costs of producing it are higher than what they do get for their crop. They will find something else to grow or go out of business.

    “What’s your suggested alternative use for land and labour in the US’s corn belt that *doesn’t* involve agriculture?”

    Again, you might like to change the subject, but it is irrelevant. I might point out that pretty much the entire East Coast has gone down this route with massive areas abandoned that used to be farming land. They have mostly turned to suburbia and forests. But I won’t because it is irrelevant. Whatever they will be doing, they won’t be growing more food for people in Africa who can’t afford to pay.

    “You’re aware of this ‘land’ thing, right?”

    Sure. And we are not within a million miles of hitting any limitation on the amount of land that is available for agriculture world-wide. Africa has plenty of land. It is, as with much of your reply, irrelevant.

  21. “Anyone defending the use of antibiotics in farming, which is the only way to make such intensive units viable, should be made to die a painful death from an otherwise curable infection.”

    What a complete tosser.

    And global warming sceptics should be buried up to their necks between the low and high tide marks or someone has an alternative idea:

    http://www.heraldsun.com.au/opinion/sideshow-around-carbon-tax-must-stop/story-fn56az2q-1226079531212

    “Really? I’m prepared to keep an open mind and propose another stunt for climate sceptics – put your strong views to the test by exposing yourselves to high concentrations of either carbon dioxide or some other colourless, odourless gas – say, carbon monoxide.”

    As an alternative may I suggest:

    “Anyone defending the use of antibiotics in farming should make a reasoned scientific case that outlines why they believe such use is appropriate and not a threat to human health.”

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