India should tap into its rich heritage and culture of more balanced diets with much less dependency on meat and not take to industrial animal farming in order to preserve its soil

According to Philip John Lymbery, Global Chief Executive Officer of Compassion in World Farming and author of the book “Sixty Harvests Left”, the country should lay much more emphasis on organic, regenerative and ecological farming, particularly by small and family farms.   

Big target

India has long been a shining example of respect for animals and respect for the land.  “I would encourage India not to repeat the mistakes of the West. Agribusiness in theWest is keen to sell those mistakes to anyone they can.And India is a big target, but it has resisted at all costs,” he told businessline in an online interaction.

On the other hand, developed nations need to cut their meat and dairy consumption to save the soil crisis across the world today, said Lymbery, who is also Global Chief Executive Officer of Compassion in World Farming. 

“It’s (to cut consumption) particularly aimed at high consuming countries like the US, Europe and UK, Brazil and so on. This is not telling people in India who eat no or little meat that they’ve got to eat even less,” he said. 

Choice for humanity

In order to ensure fairness across the world, rich people should stop “eating too much meat and dairy in a way which is killing our future,” he said. 

Lymbery’s book deals with how the food industry threatens the world. “Put simply, without soils there will be no food: game over,” it says.

Humanity faces a choice between extinction or regeneration. “As it stands, we know that there is a growing anxiety around the world regarding the climate crisis and the collapse of nature,” he said. 

At greater risk

The issue of depletion of soil health is a problem created by industrial animal agriculture. “Industrial animal agriculture and global overconsumption of meat, particularly in developed countries, will fail to address climate change, the collapse of nature and the decline of soil.We will also put ourselves at greater risk of new and more deadly pandemics,” he said.

By industrial animal agriculture, Lymbery means animals taken off from the land, where they would naturally help with soil fertility. The animals are put into cages and confined indoors. “It looks like a space-saving idea but actually isn’t because vast areas of arable land have to be devoted to keeping them in cages. Their feed is grown elsewhere and then we give that to the animals who then waste most of the food value, in terms of calories and protein in converting them to meat, milk and eggs,” he said.

Bad for animals

Most of the value of food produced today is wasted. “So when people are going hungry, it’s a man-made crisis. It’s a crisis that has been precipitated, in particular by feeding a huge amount to factory-farmed animals,” the author of Sixty Harvest Left said. 

Factory-farmed animals have been sold world over by the US,  Europe and the UK.  “Factory farming is bad for animals and people on the planet,” he said. 

Stating that it is a key driver in the rise of climate change, he said wildlife has declined mainly due to this. The UN has warned that if people carry on with industrial animal agriculture, then soil could be gone within 60 years. 

Helping in three ways  

Soil’s importance is that it provides 95 per cent food of the world. “It also does two other essential things. One is that it stops rainwater simply running back into our rivers and out to sea. So healthy soil holds water against gravity and serves thirsty crops.

“The third thing which soil does is it holds an enormous amount of carbon. Nearly twice as much carbon as is in the atmosphere. As soil degrades, it not only holds less water and provides less nutritious food, it also releases carbon into the atmosphere. So we are really undermining the future of our society,” Lymbery said.  

It takes 150-200 years to put back the soil that is depleting. “My book is based on Professor John Crawford’s numbers. He said this 12 years ago. I have done a similar calculation and others too have done it. When Michael Gove was UK’s Secretary of State for Agriculture he said we have just 30-40 years left in our bread basket region,” Lymbery said.  

Three Rs

This calls for urgent reform and world over governments, corporations, civil society and the United Nations must address climate change, the collapse of nature and achieve the sustainable development goals for a sustainable future, he said

In particular, the world needs to immediately address the problems created by industrial agriculture with its chemicals, pesticides, artificial fertilizers, cages and confinement of animals, he said. 

These issues can be addressed through three Rs by taking up a regenerative farming system, reducing consumption of meat, milk and eggs and the third is rewilding the soil. “To do this, we need to bring farmed animals back to the land as part of a mixed rotational system where they can help feed the soil, where one-fourth of biodiversity lives under it. Millions of worms live in every patch of farmland the size of a soccer pitch,”  said Lymbery.