Open letter to George Monbiot

A recent newsletter from the Organic Consumers Association contained an article about remarks made by George Monbiot (environmental reporter for The Guardian) at the Oxford Real Farming Conference. According to the article, ‘Monbiot was there to argue in favor of replacing farmers with “fermentation farmers, bioengineers, protein engineers, metabolic engineers, cell biologists, computer scientists, IT workers, food scientists and designers, nutritionists, and other similar professions.”‘

I was deeply troubled to read this, and fired off a letter to Monbiot. No telling whether he will ever see it(!), but I’m sharing it here.

I should clarify that I am not targeting vegan foods or lifestyles; but Monbiot has promoted vegan-only industrial foods coming out of factories, eliminating outdoor natural farming altogether. He has claimed that eating meat is so destructive to the climate that we should all become vegan – in accordance with this new model. My “beef” is with the high-tech, industrial, chemical- and energy-dependent aspects of this system. For all of earth’s history, food has been the most basic thing for every life form. Food production should not become the sole province of big money and secret, patented, industrial processes!

Dear Mr. Monbiot,

Thank you for your terrific environmental reporting over the years, and your willingness to speak truth to power and stand up for real solutions to our environmental crises.

However, your statements on eliminating farming in favor of industrial vegan foods do us all a great disservice. In the first place, there have been few studies demonstrating the safety of these foods, let alone their nutritional value (I might eat something that is “safe” for me, like Cheetos, but does not provide nutrients that allow me to thrive).

Perhaps more important, from an environmental perspective, is the lack of lifecycle analysis. If the new foods depend on genetically modified Roundup-ready soy, is that really an improvement? We are experiencing an insect apocalypse already, and if we don’t stop poisoning other life forms around us, we might wipe ourselves out too. There are no high-tech crops that don’t depend heavily on herbicides and pesticides. And if they are grown indoors, their carbon footprint will inevitably be large, for energy consumption, water purification, water piping, water pumping, greenhouses (or similar), heating/cooling and ventilation, and so on. Add in the parking lots, office buildings, employee transportation to the site, and other industrial infrastructure required for such operations, and you have more ugly, industrial society that wipes out nature. It is incompatible with the rewilding efforts you support.

In addition, I consider the GMOs being created by Monsanto et al not only extremely dangerous to life on earth, but also a very clear move toward the opposite of other things you say you support, such as redistribution of wealth and land, etc. Making us all dependent on high-tech foods means enriching the enormous corporations that already control too much wealth – and of course, place their profits much higher in their list of priorities than they do our health or that of the planet. Giving control of our food supply to corporations is also quite simply a foolish move that brings up dystopian visions of frightening science fiction movies in which the entire population is controlled by the corporate entities. Perhaps worst of all is just the idea of eating powdered, reconstituted food-like substances for the rest of my life: boring, unhealthy, and dreadful (think of all the artificial flavorings alone that will be required to make them minimally palatable).

If you truly care about people and planet, you ought to investigate regenerative agriculture much further. RA has the potential to regenerate nature, sequester carbon, and preserve beautiful places. Properly managed regenerative ag systems allow nature to perform processes like water purification free of charge, using happy animals grazing in wooded pastures, doing exactly what they do by instinct anyway. Contrast this with the high-cost, high-intensity processes in controlled environment ag.  

There is no question that industrial farming has caused untold harm to the planet; but you are throwing out the baby with the bathwater when you claim that all outdoor farming should end. Remember that it is the large corporations that have transformed family farms into modern industrial factories that pollute soil and water, while causing untold cruelty to the animals in their confinement systems. And it is the large corporations that control prices and just about every other aspect of large-scale farming today, so that even farmers with great integrity and desire to do good are forced into harmful practices. Industrial, high-tech agriculture, vegan or not, will just hand over more control to the rich and powerful, removing control and choice not only from farmers but from citizens and every eater on the planet. It is the wrong way to go.

Please reconsider your position on this topic. You have a strong voice and a major platform. You can cause extreme harm by promoting something that ultimately only enriches the rich and empowers the powerful instead of helping the common (wo)man and democratizing our food supply, unwinding decades of industrialization. Regeneration International is a great place to learn more about the most promising farming methods. Intensive silvopasture sequestration is another way to fight climate change and increase biodiversity, two natural side effects of food production through regenerative methods that industrial ag cannot offer.

Yours sincerely, Karin Ascot

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