This is one of those delightful little illustrations of how the varied environmental demands manage to get themselves tied up in knots. There is, for example, the demand – and it’s an entirely fair desire – that we have more land available for wildlife, that the civilisation itself walk more lightly. There’s also that idea that we should reduce the chemical load added to the land – go organic and all that.
The problem is the conflict between the two demands. For, if we are to go organic then we need animals for their shit. But if we have animals then we need more land to get the shit. So, going organic means less wild land.
The other way around to put this is that chemicals are a substitute for the land necessary to do organic farming.
The UK’s beef herd could be at the heart of a sustainable farming system that tackles both the climate and wildlife crises while producing sufficient healthy food, according to a report.
However, production and consumption of other meat, milk and eggs would have to fall by half, and large forests of new trees would have to be planted, the analysis from the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission charity (FFCC) found.
The analysis assessed agroecology, a type of agriculture that includes organic farming and aims to work with nature and ensure fairness to farmers, citizens and future generations. The scenario the analysis produced would see no pesticides or synthetic fertilisers in use in 2050 and almost 10% of today’s farmland freed-up for nature.
Well, OK, yes, why not? Except, well, there is this:
Agroecological yields are lower than conventional farming,
Ah, that means we have to use more land for any given output of food then. Thus we have a problem here.
So, let us assume that we need to maximise the amount of land for wildlife. OK. That means industrial farming then – because that economises on the use of land and substitutes chemicals for that scarce land.
Or perhaps the contrary, we’ve got to reduce the chemicals and the capitalism. OK, in that case then bugger the wildlife. Because we’ve got to use more land that way.
Note that this is true of any diet. This trade off doesn’t change whether we’re all malnourished vegans – which we can’t be because we need the animal shit – or Beef Eating Englishmen. We still have that trade off between chemical capitalism and smallholding organic. It is always true that using less land means more land for wildlife whatever the diet coming out of the end of the system.
Dressing it all up in a report doesn’t change that inevitable trade off.