Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat by Philip Lymbery with Isabel Oakshott

Reviewed by Honor May Eldridge

This book centers around the devastating impact that industrial livestock production has on the environment. The desire to produce cheap meat through factory farming harms the planet, damages human health and causes the animals to suffer. Approaching the issue from a global perspective, the authors trace the impacts of our meat and dairy industry step by gruesome step and the varying practices, scandals and atrocities around the world. He reconnects the sustainability and agricultural movement today with the work of the visionary Rachel Carson and insists that we remember the energy and impact that her publication Silent Spring had in a hope to regenerate that level of public outcry. He connects the decreasing biodiversity and natural world with the farming practices of today, citing the decline of 10 million birds in the UK avian population and the 100,000km of hedgerows that the UK lost being 1980 and 1994 alone, to highlight the far-reaching impacts that this type of meat production has on the ecosystem. He stresses the unnecessary depletion of fossil fuels, natural resources and water that these practices have and that the alternative of small-holding production would reduce these stresses and meat more sustainable.

However, the book is not without its flaws. Given the fact that both of these authors are British and that Lymbery is a leading English activist in the food sector, many of the examples are drawn from the UK and its political situation. At times, this has the effect of undercutting the universality of his argument. Secondly, since the book acts in part as a memoir of Lymbery’s fight against industrial livestock production and his career-long campaign for healthy, compassionate meat, the text sometimes strays too far from the data becoming anecdotal. We get to know his hens; Hetty, Henna, Honey and Hope and hear about his vacation to Southern California, which while humanizing and engaging do not further his position. He is a great leader in the battle against industrial food in the UK (and it’s a battle we need him to fight) but he is not alone in that battle, although at times, the book reads as if he alone is the savior of the small British farm.