‘Watch what you eat – it’s driving elephants, jaguar, bees and bison to extinction’

New book claims modern diets to blame for disappearance of Earth’s species as farmers lobby to use toxic herbicide

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JUST about every meal people eat is contributing to an alarming decline in the world’s wildlife species, experts have warned.

The claim comes in a new book, backed by Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley, that predicts two-thirds of species will be extinct within three years thanks to modern farming.

British farmers are lobbying to be allowed to continue using herbicides suspected of being linked to cancer, but have dismissed concerns that they are contributing to the worldwide crisis.

The wildlife extinction crisis is caused by the mass intensive rearing of animals in Britain and abroad to produce meat cheaply, since it drives the destruction of swathes of land and uses huge volumes of fresh water, the book claims.

It means meat on supermarket shelves is destroying a vast range of species including Indonesian elephants, wild birds, British bumblebees, water voles, jaguars (pictured above), peregrines, penguins and American wild bison, according to the author of Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were.

Philip Lymbery, who carried out a two-year investigation, even says human starvation could be reduced if populations were less dependent on meat from industrial farms “run like factories”.

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Elephants are rapidly being squeezed into ever smaller spaces in Indonesia

Forests half the size of the UK are cleared every year to provide land for intensive agriculture, and 70 per cent of the planet’s fresh water supplies are diverted for it, while species are being lost 1,000 times faster than the rate considered “normal”, he said.

It comes as UN food and pollution experts this week denounced the use of pesticides to increase food production for growing populations as “a myth”. They accused pesticide manufacturers of the “systematic denial of harms”.

However, the National Farmers Union is lobbying Europe to be allowed to continue using glyphosate, a toxic herbicide condemned by the World Health Organization as likely to cause cancer.

‘What we do every day, three times a day with our meals, is the most important thing you can change’ – Chris Darwin

During a global investigation, Lymbery discovered how the West’s demand for farm animal feed is shrinking elephant habitats in Sumatra, as new palm tree plantations spread, since palm kernel is used not only for human processed food but also as livestock fodder. Graham Usher, a conservationist, warned of the devastating effect on elephants: “It’s like me bulldozing your house. They’re gonna have nowhere to live.”

Lymbery, chief executive of charity Compassion in World Farming, put much of the blame on Europe. “The EU is the world’s biggest importer, with a growing hunger for palm kernel to feed its farm animals.”

Chris Darwin, the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin, said everyone should cut the amount of meat they eat.

“Trying to save species from extinction is a really hard thing to do,” said Darwin’s descendant. “It’s much better to try and stop them getting there, and what we do on an everyday basis, three times a day with our meals, is the most important thing you can change and there are many benefits.”

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned that demand for meat is likely to double in the next 35 years, meaning the current 70 billion animals reared for food would hit 140 billion.

“Should we allow that to happen, the loss of wildlife will surely be incalculable,” Lymbery said, adding that it would also accelerate climate change.

The book claims feeding food animals on crops that are fit for humans is “the biggest single area of food waste on the planet” and that “worldwide, if grain-fed animals were restored to pasture and the cereals and soya went to people instead, there would be enough for an extra four billion folk”.

Lymbery said: “As we destroy their habitat to make way for intensive crop plantations, our precious wildlife is being pushed to the brink of extinction. All this just to feed animals raised on cruel factory farms, many in Europe. Many people claim factory farming is the answer to feeding a burgeoning population but this couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Intensively grazed landscapes, with fertilisers and pesticides and the demise of stubble, have led to steep declines in barn owls and other farmland birds and small mammals. Chemical run-off from fields is seen as a key cause of bee decline.

water vole

Changes in farming methods, such as river dredging, land draining and depleting riverbank cover to maximise farm areas, are threatening water vole (above), the inspiration for Ratty in Wind in the Willows. “The future looks bleak for Ratty,” Lymbery concluded.

Lumley said: “Although some people are still stuck in the old meat-and-two-veg scenario, I’m delighted that more and more of us are moving to a low-meat or no-meat diet, which is kinder to the environment and to the animals and better for our health.”

An NFU spokesman said: “Most official analysis agrees there has been no ‘intensification’ of agriculture in the UK in the last 25 years. Indeed, modern farmers plant hedges and trees. British farmers have planted or restored 30,000km of hedgerows to provide food and shelter for wildlife.

“When it comes to birds, British farmers are taking significant measures to maintain the habitat of more than 100 different species. The British bird population as a whole is stable.”

He said farming unions were lobbying Europe to allow glyphosate’s use to control weeds as it avoids more expensive cultivation methods such as ploughing, which was good for reducing fossil fuel usage in tractors and greenhouse gas emissions.

Dead Zone is published by Bloomsbury.

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