Book review: Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat, by Philip Lymbery

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 May, 2014, 1:55pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 May, 2014, 1:55pm

Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat
by Philip Lymbery
2 stars

Jason Smith

At 365 pages Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat is a long book that says very little. The views of the main author, Compassion in World Farming CEO Philip Lymbery, will be familiar.

The fundamental point is to express a sense of detachment from modern society, a longing for a simpler way of life, a life before Cafos (concentrated animal feeding operations) where everyone was happier with their lot.

The rot started in Britain with the passing of the 1947 Agriculture Act. In the US, the 1933 Farm Bill was where society diverged from the path of righteousness. Farmers specialised, concentrating, for example, on dairy, beef or wheat. The age-old natural cycle, where crops and animals would rotate to replenish the soil, was lost.

According to Lymbery, nature is out of balance, with society having gone too far in the wrong direction. His premise is that we need to relearn traditional wisdom. His job in this book is to be the prophet who saves us from ourselves.

In the final chapter, Lymbery points to the things we should do to make a change. It's the usual consumerist movement, change your individual behaviour, tactics familiar to most people. Where South African grapes once represented the boycott de jour, now local, free range and organic are the indicators of caring moral superiority.

Lymbery waits until page 358 to give us the most sensible sentence in the whole book: "About 11 billion people could be fed on what the world currently produces, many more than today's seven billion."

In as far as Farmageddon details the thought processes of someone clearly in the thick of it when it comes to the modern existential crisis at the heart of society, it's a useful read. However, it could easily have been contained in 200 pages. Anyone interested in detailed arguments against industrialised agriculture would do better looking elsewhere in this ever-expanding publishing field.