Jay Rayner: Sustainable Super Farms Are The Future

A food critic argues that a focus on local, seasonal and organic won’t feed the world’s growing population.

In an opinion piece for the UK’s Observer, restaurant critic and a novelist Jay Rayner counters the argument for local food. He says that small batch food will be luxury available for the middle classes and that we have to consider how to adapt large scale agriculture to feed our large populations with a diet that’s healthy for us, the animals and plants we eat and the land they come from.

It’s clear to me that we risk replacing a culture of a cheap and plentiful present with one of hyper-expense and scarcity in just a few years’ time… Words such as local, seasonal and organic have become a holy trinity. But these are merely lifestyle choices for the affluent middle-classes, a matter of aesthetics, and nothing to do with the real issues.

…[The UK is a] country suited to dairy farming [but] is no longer self-sufficient in milk. We’re importing the stuff. The solution, embracing of the kind of super dairy proposed at Nocton Heath in Lincolnshire, which will house more than 8,000 cows, bedded down indoors on sand, is met with howls of derision because it’s not “natural”. The dairy farmers I’ve talked to may take issue with it for the impact it could have on smaller farms, but none of them sees animal welfare as an issue. Unhappy, ill animals do not produce milk, so it’s not in the farm’s interests to mistreat them or shorten their lifespan. Also, the carbon footprint of such a large facility may actually be many times smaller than that of the traditional dairy farm.

If we are to survive the coming food security storm, we will have to embrace unashamedly industrial methods of farming. We need to abandon the mythologies around agriculture, which take the wholesome marketing of high-end food brands at face value – farmer in smock, ear of corn, happy pig – and recognise that farming really is an industry, much like car manufacturing or steel forging, one which always works better on a mass scale, but which can still be managed sustainably.

Bespoke is fine for those with deep pockets. As for the rest, we live on a small, overpopulated island with a growing head count and for many big is the only way to go.

Observer: Big agriculture is the only option to stop the world going hungry

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