The Big BLT: hunting down your food impact.

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! 🙂

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11 Responses to The Big BLT: hunting down your food impact.

  1. Pete Smith says:

    It really pisses me off when people do a lot of research and then waste it by not giving chapter and verse on their sources. It effectively makes their work unusable as a secondary source, and other writers have to go off and do the digging all over again to find the primary sources. I’ve left a comment to that effect on the Ecologist site, but since this article was originally published in September 2006 I don’t suppose anyone will see my remarks.

    As for the article. It’s good to see an attempt to revive the idea of holistic environmental impact, as popularised by the ecological footprint movement a few years ago. We’ve all become so blinkered by emissions and carbon ‘footprints’ (which aren’t really footprints at all, since they’re not a ratio but an absolute measure) that our other environmental impacts have been pushed to one side.

  2. matt says:

    Yes, I’ve heard some very similar concerned noises recently from those people involved with the science of species decline. Very valid I believe. There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t deal with several crisis’s at once!

    I blame the air head editors of our national newspapers, magazines and news channels. I mean, do we really give a flying fuck what Beckham’s up to!

  3. Pete Smith says:

    We don’t, but a distressingly large number of people do.

  4. Pete Smith says:

    Yes, some of the blame lies with the media, but only because that’s how our culture is delivered. TV in particular has become a substitute for parents and grandparents, who in past times would have passed on their wisdom to their children. Hence our shallow, sound-bite view of the world. Our environment is only real where it touches our ‘bubble’.

    We have become disconnected from the natural world. For urban dwellers, this connection used to be continually reaffirmed through seasonal foods; the arrival of the first bananas from the West Indies or mandarin oranges from Israel. Now that the retail supply chain can source from anywhere, and compensate for local shortages (such as those caused by the recent UK floods) by buying in from anywhere that’s cheap enough, we are insulated from natural events and the connection with our wider environment is broken. If the environment is no longer real to us, all discussion of environmental issues are pretty much abstract. This is why we so easily buy into concepts like carbon footprints and find it hard to think round the wider issues.

  5. matt says:

    … and carbon offsets (smelly farts)

    You’re absolutely right of course Pete. Something on the radio about this last night on Radio4 (where else!).

    I guess the recent rise in popularity of allotments is a good thing, albeit a small section of the populace. One just has to keep knocking on people’s front doors (mobile screens, TV screens, computer screens) to drive home the necessary messages.

    Worry here is that because of the disconnectedness you talk about people simply don’t get it and switch off, muttering something angrily about green fundamentalists and interfering government/council officials. Tax and all that!

  6. Pete Smith says:

    “The Danish swineherd produces nine billion litres of manure a year.”

    Blimey, poor bloke, how does he find time to look after the pigs?

  7. matt says:

    Down south in the Netherlands the manure problem is so big that they have to tanker the stuff from the intensive farming south-west up to the north-east, where they spray the stuff over the fields of less intensively managed farms. Madness. And just a few carbon emissions involved.

  8. the Grit says:

    Hi y’all,

    Thanks for that. I’ve often wondered, but not enough to research it, why we, here in Tennessee, frequently get mass lots of cheap pork ribs from Denmark. Normally, I don’t worry about these global market things, but, since we produce a whole lot of pigs within a 200 mile radius, it always seemed strange that a product produced in a, relatively, tiny country could, after being shipped several thousand miles, compete in price with a local product. Mystery solved.

    As to pig poop, modern mass pig barns are designed to allow automated washing of the entire facility so that the poop is washed into a central lagoon. I’ve driven past these in summer, and anyone who is complaining about the smell has a very good case! If the fumes wafting off those pools could be captured, condensed, and canned, it would be the ultimate crowd control device. I have stumbled upon several truly nasty smells in my life, but they all pale in comparison to the odor of a pig pond. On the bright side, I would think that living down wind from such an establishment would make it very easy for even the most food addicted individual to loose weight.

    the Grit

  9. matt says:

    > …. living down wind from such an establishment would make it very easy for even the most food addicted individual to loose weight.

    LOL! The new American weight loss export; pig shit in a can. I’m off to California to catch a venture capitalist now. 🙂

  10. the Grit says:

    Hi Matt,

    Check with Homeland Security. Such a commodity may have anti-terrorist applications, so you might get a development grant 🙂 Kindly post a copy of your request.

    the Grit

  11. matt says:

    Jolly inspiring of you Grit. Trouble is I come out in a rash at the sight of great wads of forms to fill in. 🙂

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