Jon Hughes & Pat Thomas of The Ecologist Online have written a thoroughly fascinating story on the popular BLT sandwich as an example of just how much impact we lovely humans have on the wider environment. We really are a greedy lot aren’t we! If we could simply eat grass like horses, cows and sheep seem happy doing …. 🙂
Here’s some facts from Jon and Pat on the great BLT environmental challenge;
* Danish Crown has developed a new slaughterhouse in
Horsens, which is believed to be the largest in the world. It is equipped to kill 78,000 pigs a week.
* The Danish swineherd produces nine billion litres of manure a year.
* It is illegal to use growth promoters except for ‘health reasons’. As
industrial pig farming causes stress and anxiety through premature weaning and over-crowding it is easy to see how this loophole is open to abuse. It might explain why they reach slaughter weight more rapidly than their traditional counterparts – in five months as opposed to around one year.
* In 1971 soya was farmed on 37,000 hectares in Argentina; now it covers over 14m hectares. It is predicted that 10,000 hectares of forest is being lost annually and that if this continues, in five years’ time the country’s native forests will disappear completely.
* Lettuce is grown under irrigation due to the lack of natural water sources; rainfall in southern Spain is 2/3rds less than in the UK, at an average 300mm. Fertilizers and pesticides are drip-fed to the plants via water pipes.
* Inside the polymer tunnels tomato plants grow on perlite – a volcanic rock that retains moisture, which is mined and crushed for the purpose in Greece, 1382 miles away.
* Due to the poor fertility of soil in southern Spain, fertilisers are heavily used. Excess levels of nitrogen in humans has been linked to heart-disease and numerous cancers. The production and use of nitrogen also contributes to climate change. As a greenhouse gas, nitrogen is 300 times more potent than C02.
* Southern Spain is the driest part of Europe and and is facing a water crisis, which is why the construction of 20 desalination units is being considered. Acquifers are being plundered causing untold environmental damage, destroying wetlands, causing soil erosion and allowing sea water to enter the water table.
* Intensive pesticide usage, and repeated spray rounds, are necessary to protect both crops. More pesticides are applied to field grown lettuce than any other vegetable crop, with an average 11.7 applications each ‘season’. A wordlwide ban on methyl bromide should have come into effect last year, but Spain secured exemptions for continued use. This is an ozonedepleting chemical, and kills the soil as well as the pests it is designed to attack. In 2005 random tests on lettuces from Spain by the UK government found Spanish lettuce contained the residue of 17 different chemicals related to pesticides, many of which are linked to causing cancers and heart disease.
* There are an astonishing 30,000 varieties of wheat in the world, but only 25-30 varieties are grown in the UK.Of these, only four are high quality bread making varieties (Malacca, Hereward, XI 19 and Paragon) necessary for industrial breadmaking. The UK has some 31 companies operating 59 large industrial mills. The two largest, Rank Hovis McDougal and ADM, control around 50% of flour production in the UK. Rank Hovis is the UK’s leading miller with factories in mills in Selby, Hull, Manchester, Southampton and Wellingborough, and is the likely source of the flour for this sandwich. The company mills one million tonnes of flour per year from 50,000 lorryloads of wheat.
* Over half of the bread sold in the UK is produced by enormous plant bakeries. The two biggest Allied Bakers and British Bakeries Limited control more than 80 per cent of the UK bread market. Supermarkets produce around 18 per cent of the bread we buy and at the bottom of the list are the craft or artisan bakers that account for only 2 per cent of the UK bread market.
* Butter is made from cream which is obtained by separating whole milk into its major constituents: cream and skimmed milk. There are two million dairy cows living on the UK’s 21,000 dairy farms; 95% of these are now black and white North American Holsteins. Since the 1970s high yield Holsteins, producing around 8,000 litres of milk a year, have replaced Friesians on most UK dairy farms. A cow’s natural lifespan could be 25 years, but most modern dairy cows are sent for slaughter at about five years old. Calves born on dairy farms are weaned within days of birth. A dairy cow spends seven months of every year simultaneously pregnant and producing milk. This physical demand requires her to eat four times more food each day than a beef cow.
Yes, more here … if you so desire (and you should 🙂 ).
Facts, glorious facts. Well, we do hope the Ecologist journalists have done their homework properly. After all, I could see no references with their article. But this does all have a familiar ring to it for those who follow food politics.
BLT anyone! 🙂