Food, agriculture and climate change

Issue: 152

Martin Empson

Scientific evidence of the deepening environmental crisis is growing.1 Climate change is happening faster than scientific models had predicted. At the same time, despite rhetoric at the COP21 climate conference in Paris at the end of December 2015, we are seeing little, if any, action to reduce emissions.

So it is not surprising that hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated during COP21. These protests were part of a reinvigorated and growing climate movement that used the opportunity presented by COP21 to return to the streets. In Britain, as well as elsewhere, this movement has brought together wide social forces, from environmental campaigners and NGOs, to trade unions and left wing organisations. The movement is increasingly taking up wider political demands and, with the popularity of the slogan “System Change not Climate Change”, it bears a striking resemblance to the anti-capitalist movement of the early 2000s.

Within the movement important debates are being raised about what needs to be done. The dominant tone of these discussions is left wing, epitomised by the popularity of Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus the Climate.2 The book is in part a product of the environmental movement, ­particularly what she calls “Blockadia”, movements that have emerged out of resistance to attempts by fossil fuel corporations to build pipelines, extract shale gas and exploit tar sands. The book has also helped shape the movement itself, leading to debates among activists about the nature of capitalism and its fossil fuel imperative.

But other debates are re-emerging. One that has manifested with renewed force is the question of agriculture, food and climate change. On both the London and Paris climate demonstrations around the COP21 conference, activists organised blocs calling for veganism to become a significant part of the fight against climate change. These blocs were often marked by calls on other activists to change their personal lifestyles to “save the planet”. In London several hundred vegan activists held placards with slogans including “Want to Change the Climate? Change Your Diet Go Vegan!” or “Vegan Diet will save the Planet”. The Bristol based vegan campaigning organisation Viva! produced placards reading “There’s no such thing as a meat eating environmentalist”. Such demands contrast with the slogans that have dominated the movement more recently, which demand large-scale state action on climate change, such as the call for “One Million Climate Jobs”.

This focus on animal farming has been dramatically fuelled by the popularity of the 2014 film Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. Directed by activist Kip Andersen and filmmaker Keegan Kuhn, Cowspiracy has become enormously influential, and after it was updated by executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio and streamed online by Netflix, it has been watched thousands of times. The 90-minute documentary argues that animal agriculture is responsible for 51 percent of global emissions and the systematic destruction of rainforests, as well as wider environmental problems. As the title suggests, it implies a conspiracy involving government bodies, agricultural corporations and environmental NGOs to avoid discussing the role of animal farming in the environmental crisis.

The conclusion of the film is that only a vegan lifestyle can save the planet. And this argument is entering the mainstream of the environmental movement, as one banner on the London march for Climate, Justice and Jobs had it, “The No 1 Cause of Climate Change is Animal Agriculture”. Demands to reduce meat eating aren’t limited to activists either, with governments and even the UN making similar calls.3

But by emphasising individual behavioural changes as a way of tackling climate change this approach fails to challenge the systemic problems with the food system under capitalism, which are the real source of the problem. Cowspiracy rightly highlights many problems with modern farming. Its focus, however, is not on the nature of agriculture under capitalism, but one particular aspect of it.4

Modern agriculture is enormously destructive to the environment. This is the result of a food system driven by profit and dominated by supermarkets and multinationals. As a result the system causes enormous quantities of waste, and holds up a “Western diet” as the ideal. Consumers are then blamed for their bad food choices, with little regard for the context in which those choices are made.

The solution is not individual dietary changes, but a radical transformation of the food system itself. In this article I will explore the environmental impact of agriculture under capitalism, particularly its contribution to climate change. I hope this can strengthen the anti-capitalist aspect of the climate movement, and in turn the wider revolutionary challenge to capitalism.5

Agriculture and climate change

Cowspiracy’s headline figure is that “livestock and their by-products account for…51 percent of all worldwide greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions”. This figure is based on a report for the Worldwatch Institute by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang who argue that:

The life cycle and supply chain of domesticated animals raised for food have been vastly underestimated as a source of GHGs…replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change. In fact, this approach would have far more rapid effects on GHG emissions and their atmospheric concentrations—and thus on the rate the climate is warming—than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.6

But these dramatic figures are contradicted by other studies. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) acknowledges that “the livestock sector plays an important role in climate change” but suggests that the emissions figure is much lower. In their 2013 report, Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock: A Global Assessment of Emissions and Mitigation Opportunities, the FAO argue that livestock represents 14.5 percent of human-induced GHG emissions.7 This is a reduction on an earlier study by the FAO which concluded that livestock was responsible for 18 percent of GHG emissions.8 The earlier study was considered flawed by some as it compared the full life-cycle of the lifestock sector (including transport emissions, for example) with only a partial life-cycle for other sectors. Even though this was acknowledged by the authors of the later FAO report, the flawed figures of the 2006 report are still quoted by the makers of Cowspiracy.9

Danny Chivers, author and lead external carbon analyst for Christian Aid and ActionAid, has dismissed Cowspiracy’s figures:

The 51 percent number comes from a single non-peer-reviewed report by two researchers—a report littered with statistical errors. This study counts the climate impact of methane from animals as being more than three times more powerful as methane from other sources, adds in an inappropriate chunk of extra land use emissions and incorrectly includes all the carbon dioxide that livestock breathe out.10

But acknowledging the limitations of the Cowspiracy figure is not to downplay the significance of livestock, or agriculture in general, in terms of climate change. In the UK, for instance, government figures show that agriculture is responsible for 9 percent of total GHG emissions, which includes 79 percent of total nitrous oxide emissions, 48 percent of methane emissions and 1 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.11 Methane is a significant greenhouse gas with a warming impact 23 times greater than carbon dioxide. It originates from a number of sources, such as the decomposition of organic material, but is particularly important in livestock farming because animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and buffalo produce large quantities as part of their digestion. Methane is also emitted when animal manure is stored to be used as fertiliser. Nitrous oxide is emitted mostly through the use of synthetic fertilisers.

In March 2014, the FAO produced figures showing that in 2011 global agricultural emissions were the highest in history, 5,335 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent (about 9 percent higher than the average for the preceding decade), and are projected to increase by 30 percent by 2050.12 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that global emissions from ­agriculture, forestry and other land use are around 24 percent of the world’s total.13 A 2012 study argues that food systems as a whole contribute between 19 and 29 percent of GHG emissions, of which 80 to 86 percent is from agriculture.14

Agriculture is a large contributor to climate change for three main reasons. Firstly, an increasing part of agriculture is the growing of crops to produce feed for animals and biofuels. Secondly, agriculture is a significant cause of deforestation (71 percent of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2012 was linked to clearances for cultivation15), and finally the whole of modern, industrialised agriculture is reliant on the use of fossil fuels.

The growing of crops is the conversion of nutrients from the soil and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into plants that can be eaten. Some plants cannot be directly eaten by humans but can be consumed by animals, turning them into meat or milk, or giving them energy to pull a plough or transport materials. Since ancient times farmers have known that applying extra nutrients to soil can improve crop yields. Historically animal manure has been used to do this, but from the 19th century onwards, as scientific understanding of chemical processes grew, the application of other fertilisers became common. At first this included sources of nutrients such as ground up bones or bird guano. But, as the industrial revolution developed, artificial fertilisers became the most common way of replenishing the soil. Today the manufacture of fertiliser requires enormous energy inputs from fossil fuels. In the developed world oil is also essential to the harvesting, ploughing and transport of crops and animals, and the food that they are processed into. Another significant use of fossil fuels is in the manufacture of pesticides that are used to kill weeds and insects.

The rising demand for meat and other products of the meat industry, such as milk, eggs or cheese, means that livestock farming has become enormous. The global population (2013) of chickens is calculated at 21 billion birds, while there are estimated to be 1.4 billion cattle, 1.1 billion sheep and 977 million pigs.16

Emissions from cattle farming are the single biggest emissions of livestock farming. Most of this comes from beef production (41 percent of total livestock emissions) with 20 percent coming from milk production. In some developing areas of the world, emissions from livestock used for transport or draught-power remain high—accounting for a quarter of emissions in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.17 Environmentalists who argue that stopping climate change requires reducing numbers of cattle and buffalo rarely suggest an alternative to those communities who rely on animals for farming and transport.

The sheer scale of emissions from livestock farming is worth examining. Take the example of the South American beef industry. According to the FAO, this is responsible for 31 percent of the global beef sector. This contributes about 1 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent to GHG emissions. There are two main sources of emissions. Firstly, enteric fermentation, the digestive process by which micro-organisms in an animal’s stomach break down food so it can be absorbed into the bloodstream, produces methane (which, for the South American beef industry, is responsible for 30 percent of emissions). Secondly, the use of manure as fertiliser and land-use change, such as deforestation to expand grazing areas, contribute to emissions by 23 percent and 40 percent respectively.18

Even under the existing system there is potential for significant reductions in emissions. But these will often require technological improvements or changes to agricultural practices, so may be rejected by companies that are unwilling to reduce profits or farmers who lack the capital to introduce them. But they do demonstrate the way a food system that is driven by need, not by profit, could reduce emissions. For instance, the FAO notes that emissions from the livestock sector could be reduced by 18 percent by generalising from the best practices of those with the lowest emissions and by utilising existing technologies, but this is dependent on “conducive policies and market signals” existing to encourage the adoption of these best practices.19 The FAO also notes that reducing deforestation, reducing the expansion of agricultural areas and improving how and where animals are grazed could also lead to the further sequestration of greenhouse gases in soil (some 409 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year). Other practices, such as the sowing of legumes (plants such as peas, clover and beans) on grassland, can significantly improve the ability of the soil to absorb carbon.20

Concern about emissions from agriculture is not simply their impact on the environment; emissions also reflect inefficiencies in the agricultural process itself. For example, animal feed is often the most expensive part of livestock farming, and methane emissions represent a waste of the energy input in the form of feed. Therefore reducing emissions can also reduce farming costs through energy reduction in the food system.21

Emissions from livestock agriculture vary dramatically from region to region, often reflecting different types of farming, or land use in the particular region. For instance, globally, land use change is responsible for 15 percent of the beef industry’s emissions, but for chicken production it is 21 percent. This is because land use change originates in deforestation for beef, but for chickens it is related to the production of their soybean feed. This creates a further difficulty in estimating industry emissions, because soybeans are traded internationally so their emissions are attributed in different locations worldwide, but deforestation emissions are considered locally.22 There is also enormous variety between countries reflecting different industrial practices.23 But broadly speaking, agriculture in the most affluent areas of the globe has high emissions when measured against the land area. But the emissions per unit of agricultural production are low.24

Production methods can also affect the level of emissions per unit of production. There is a strong negative correlation between the amount of milk produced by cows and emission intensity. In other words, as yield increases, the amount of emissions per unit of production decreases. There are three reasons for this, with implications for reducing total emissions from farming. The first is that as total yields grow, emissions are spread over a larger amount of production. Secondly, improvements in productivity (such as the use of different feeds, mechanised milking machines or drugs to improve production) are often related to improved technologies and practices that can also reduce emissions. Finally, improvements to herd management, as well as animal health and husbandry, “increase the proportion of resources utilised for productive purposes rather than simply being used to maintain the animals”.25

The use of technology can help reduce both total emissions and the amount of emissions per unit of production at least in some areas of livestock agriculture, such as milk production. Because the amount of methane cows produce varies naturally, current research suggests that selective breeding could mean future animals may be less polluting than currently, even without using extra technologies.26

OECD countries have only 20 percent of the global dairy cows, but produce 73 percent of the world’s milk. Average emissions for OECD milk production are thus much lower than the world in general. The FAO’s case study of this sector suggests that “feasible improvements in manure management, energy use, feed quality and animal performance” could lead to reductions of between 14 and 17 percent of GHGs (which is between 4 and 5 percent of the emissions from the global milk sector). The exact way of doing this would depend on regional factors—in Western Europe better energy use is the most significant factor, while in North America “wider use of anaerobic digesters” to break down animal waste is suggested.27

But with agriculture, as with other sectors such as energy generation or transport, we have to be wary of simply seeing either technology or particular production methods as necessarily leading to lower emissions. Take chicken farming. There are three types of chicken production: backyard and industrial layers, that produce meat and eggs, and industrial broilers, that produce only meat. Industrial broiler and egg farming has the lowest emission intensity for similar reasons to that of milk production in cows. Chickens running free in a backyard have high emission intensity per egg as the animals grow more slowly and produce fewer eggs, their feed tends to be of lower quality, and the ratio of unproductive to productive animals is higher than in industrial production. So industrial poultry production produces less energy emissions per unit than backyard farming.

However, we must be careful not to lose sight of the wider context. Although industrial poultry farming results in fewer emissions, there are other negatives. Chickens are kept in terrible conditions and live short, often painful lives, with a high usage of antibiotics and other drugs to encourage rapid growth. The use of drugs to produce cheap meat may well have health impacts for consumers. Mass poultry farming is also unhealthy for those who work in the industry—a US Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed that the poultry industry is one of those with the highest levels of occupational illness.28 US poultry farming is dominated by a few massive corporations, that contract out the growing of chickens to smaller farms (while the animals themselves remain the property of the corporation). This leads to farmers being trapped in an unequal relationship, at the beck and call of the businesses solely motivated by profits.29

But when we consider the emissions from pig farming, the “difference in emission intensities between the various production systems is not substantial”. While the majority of total emissions from the pig sector still come from industrial farming, emissions are similar when considered against backyard production. The reason for this is mostly linked to the lower quality of food given to backyard animals (often waste from other sources), which means lower emissions.30 So it is not automatic that switching to industrialised farming, or to highly technological practices will reduce emissions.

I will return to strategies to reduce emissions later. But for now it’s worth noting two conclusions. First, there is a large potential to reduce emissions from agriculture and particularly livestock farming. The use of improved technology and other practices can, in certain circumstances, have a significant impact on the amount of emissions. I have already noted the FAO conclusion that emissions could be reduced by between 18 and 30 percent if producers in particular regions were all able to take up the practices used by the 10 to 25 percent of producers who have the lowest emissions.

Secondly, emissions reductions can be achieved in both the developed and developing world, but the methods may vary. High emissions from industrialised farming might be better achieved through “on-farm efficiency, such as better manure management and energy saving devices” but elsewhere better land management, herd management and changes to feeding practices are needed.31 There is no one size fits all solution to reducing emissions from agriculture, rather a wide variety of answers.

How climate change affects agriculture

Finally, it’s worth highlighting how climate change will impact on agriculture. It used to be commonly thought that global warming would be beneficial to farmers, as higher carbon dioxide levels would act as a fertiliser and improve crop yields. While this is true (yields of some crops, such as wheat, can rise by 30 percent if CO2 doubles), any improvement also depends on other factors such as nutrient levels, water availability and average temperatures.

Fish and shellfish are highly vulnerable to temperature changes, and increasing acidification of the oceans will further impact on already low stocks. This in turn can have a further negative impact on agriculture as something like a third of the world’s fish catch ends up as animal feed. The practice of feeding farm animals and fish on other fish and krill from the oceans is also significantly damaging to the ocean’s ecosystems.

Extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, are likely to become more intense and frequent as the world warms. Since agriculture is often concentrated in particular regions, this can lead to major risks to crop production. For instance, a third of all wheat, corn and rice that is traded internationally originates in the United States. In 2012 America experienced its worst drought since 1950 with 60 percent of US farms experiencing moderate to extreme drought in August. As a result, corn production was down to 2006 levels and export prices rose by 33 percent in the summer.32

The melting of glaciers also threatens agriculture. In the Himalayas some 15,000 glaciers feed about half the Brahmaputra, Ganges and Indus rivers’ annual flow. As those glaciers melt there will be an initial surge in water levels, but a warming world ultimately threatens a billion people who rely on the rivers’ water. In South America, Andean glaciers supply water and hydroelectric energy to nearly 80 million people. In 2010 Henry Pollack wrote that “one quarter of Earth’s population will within another few decades begin to be affected significantly by lesser snowfall and glacial ice loss”.33

Climate change will hit agriculture and food in other ways. A US report, published in April 2016, highlights some of these. It suggests that some illnesses such as salmonella and e. coli will become more common in warmer weather and notes that higher carbon dioxide levels will reduce protein levels in food. The frightening conclusion is that extreme weather could interrupt food supply chains, will intensify pesticide use in reaction to changing insect populations and will lower concentrations of essential minerals such as iron and zinc in food.34

The wider environmental impact of agriculture

Historically agriculture has been the most significant way that humans have altered their environment. The emergence of agriculture around 10,000 years ago can be linked to a wide variety of environmental and ecological changes. These have included deforestation, changes to water courses for irrigation and the selective breeding of plants and animals for domestication. Under capitalism, like earlier human societies, we continue to alter the environment and agriculture forms a significant part of this process. But the nature of production under capitalism has meant the transformation of nature has been taken to a new level. John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York have described how Karl Marx developed an understanding of the way that capitalism created a “metabolic rift” in the “exchange between humanity and nature”:

The context was the robbing of the soil of the countryside of nutrients and the sending of these nutrients to the cities in the form of food and fibre, where they ended up contributing to pollution. This rupture in the soil nutrient cycle undermined the regenerative capacities of the ecosystem. Marx argued that it was necessary to “restore” the soil metabolism to ensure environmental sustainability for the generations to come.35

This rift has its origins in a system of production that treats the natural world only as part of the productive process itself, a source of raw materials or energy, or a dump for the waste of that productive process. While no agricultural production can fail to have an impact upon nature, the industrialised farming that currently dominates produces, in Marx’s words, “an irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism”.36

The almond industry presents a stark example of this. Some 80 percent of the world’s almonds come from highly intensive farms in Central Valley, California. Around 60 million almond trees are planted in orchards covering 240,000 hectares of land. The area has so little rain it is classified as “semi-desert”. In addition to almonds there are giant dairies and huge fields of fruit, nuts and vegetables. In Farmageddon, Philip Lymbery describes this as:

a deeply disturbing place where not a blade of grass, no tree or hedgerow grows, except in private gardens and the ruthlessly delineated fields. The phenomenal output of fruit and veg is possible only thanks to a cocktail of chemicals and the plundering of the crystal-clear rivers that run down from the Sierra Nevada mountains…farmers have been able to pull off a multi-billion-dollar conjuring trick, extracting harvests from soil that is so depleted of natural matter it might as well be brown polystyrene.37

Industrialised agriculture like this means there are no longer enough bees to pollinate the crops, so every year 3,000 lorries carry 40 billion bees across the United States to California where they pollinate the almond trees at a cost of $250 million a year.38

Honeybees, central to the production of food, are themselves victims of industrial farming. Colony collapse disorder has been linked to pesticides called neonicotinoids, but other factors are closely linked to industrial farming. For instance, in Central Valley hedges and unploughed field margins where bees might have lived have been removed to create giant orchards. More problematically, these mono-cropped areas rely on the heavy use of artificial fertilisers. Historically farmers allowed soils to replenish themselves through crop rotation—leaving a field fallow, or sowing a crop such as clover, which also encourages bees. But large-scale, monocropped industrial farming simultaneously reduces food sources and poisons and destroys the places where bees live.39

One Indian ecologist, Dr Parthiba Basu, argues that declining forests and increased pesticide use are key factors in the collapse of bee populations:

I had hoped that pollinator loss would not be nearly as serious in developing countries as it is in the West, but that does not seem to be the case. It is very sad. It is going to take a lot of effort to turn this around, but unfortunately the developing world is going down the opposite route right now, embracing Western-style intensification. That means more mono-cropping and chemical fertiliser and pesticide use, and more loss of the wilderness habitats on which bees depend.40

But using industrially bred bees in vast quantities is not a fail-safe solution. In 2014 between 15 and 25 percent of beehives brought to California for almond pollination were severely damaged, leading to the death of millions of bees. It seems likely that the cause was the use of new “adjuvants”, chemicals used to improve the efficiency of pesticides but which make hitherto safe pesticides lethal to bees.41 So the almond industry has created and become dependent on a bee industry, but the farming practices used also threaten the viability of the bee industry itself. There can be no better example of the “metabolic rift” in modern agriculture.42

Karl Marx might have been writing about the almond and bee industries when he commentated about capitalist farming:

agriculture no longer finds the natural conditions of its own production within itself, naturally, arisen, spontaneous, and ready to hand, but these exist as an independent industry separate from it—and, with this separateness the whole complex set of interconnections in which this industry exists is drawn into the sphere of the conditions of agricultural production.43

The almond industry also highlights another important environmental aspect of farming—the question of water. Growing crops and animals requires vast quantities of water. Some 3,400 litres of water are needed to grow a kilogram of rice, 3,900 for a kilogram of chicken and between 15,000 and 100,000 litres for a kilogram of beef.44 A single almond requires slightly over 4 litres of water.45

A hectare of “high-yield” rice needs about 11 million litres to produce 7 tons of rice. Soybeans require about 5.8 million litres to get three tons per hectare. Wheat uses “only” about 2.4 million litres for 2.7 tons per hectare. Vandana Shiva has pointed out that these high-yield seeds should really be known as “high-response” varieties as they require such increased inputs in the form of chemicals and water.46 Growing crops using irrigation as opposed to rainwater alone requires three times more energy to grow the same amount of grain, adding to the GHG emissions.47

Agriculture is helping to rapidly deplete freshwater reserves, particularly underground aquifers. Some wells are replenished naturally, but others, known as fossil aquifers, hold water that has been there for thousands of years and is not replenished. In the United States the Ogallala aquifer provides about 30 percent of irrigation water used by the country’s farmers, and it may dry up within 25 years.48 The deeper or more inaccessible the water, the more energy must be expended in pumping it to the surface, which means more fossil fuels being burnt, increasing emissions. The World Bank estimates that 175 million people in India and 130 million in China depend on grain produced by over-pumping.49

Agriculture also causes pollution of rivers, lakes and the sea. One cause of this is the pollution from animal manure. Britain’s animals annually produce 80 million tons of manure. In Britain an “average-sized dairy herd of a hundred cows can produce as much effluent as a town of 5,000 people. Across the country there are a total of 1.8 million dairy cows, not to mention many millions of pigs, chickens and other farm animals”.50 In the past manure from cows was spread back on the fields as fertiliser, but intensive dairy farming (or factory farming of chickens and pigs) produces such vast quantities of manure that it cannot possibly be spread on the soil. Some is stored in vast pools, and leakages can pollute groundwater and emit gases into the air.51 Lymbery quotes Kevin Hamilton, a respiratory therapist in the previously described Central Valley on the impact of pollution from high-intensity farming:

We’re talking about heart disease, birth defects, and stunted lung development among children who spent a lot of time outside playing sport. We’re talking about high blood pressure and increased risk of stroke. We have the second highest level of childhood asthma in the whole of the US.52

Some mega-dairies in the region have tens of thousands of cows.53 The waste from these, plus the chemicals and pesticides used, is creating a health crisis. Hamilton continues: “You have to use a phenomenal amount of chemicals to push multiple crops out of the soil we have here… These pesticides are capable of penetrating the human body to genome level—meaning they can affect the very building blocks of the body”.54

Leakages and rainfall can wash the manure into streams and rivers, and the amassed nutrients can lead to “dead zones” in water. Agriculture run-off from “excessive” fertiliser use on farms in the Mississippi watershed has caused a 6,000 square mile dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico no longer able to support life.55

In developed countries such as Britain and the US farmers’ organisations have been able to organise to prevent government action to reduce such pollution. In the US, “Congress does not regulate excess nitrogen runoff from farms and does not tax farm fertiliser use.” Instead it pays farmers to temporarily leave land unused to reduce pollution. In other words, the government is paying the polluters, rather than punishing them for polluting. In one case, when Al Gore planned to tax sugar growers in Florida to fund a clean-up of the Everglades, a sugar baron simply telephoned then president Bill Clinton to cancel the tax plan.56

The human impact of pesticide use is not just limited to those living near to highly industrialised farms. In the developing world larger proportions of populations are engaged in agriculture, threatening more people. Plantation crops such as tea, cotton, coffee and vegetables are pesticide intensive and expose large areas and large numbers of people to the chemicals. The World Health Organisation estimates that 20,000 workers die from exposure to pesticides every year, most of them in the developing world.57

Pesticide use brings both benefits and potential problems. The “Green Revolution” of the 1970s saw crop yields dramatically increase as new strains of crops were developed. Alongside this, the use of pesticides increased, closely associated with higher government subsidies. Sometimes over-use of pesticides was associated with wider environmental destruction (as well as costs to human health). In Indonesia, for instance, in the early 1980s, massive government subsidies for fertilisers and pesticides led to excessive use on rice fields. As well as killing pests, over-use of pesticides also destroyed species that were essential to insect control (such as spiders). When “bad insects” such as planthoppers evolved pesticide resistance, the government had to intervene to ban 75 different insecticides allowing the recovery of insects to control the pests.58

One response to this has been for some farmers and consumers to turn to organic crops to reduce the use of artificial pesticides. Organic farming is an attempt to make agriculture more sustainable, biologically diverse and healthy by reducing the use of artificial chemicals. For example methods such as crop rotation, manure and cover-crops are used to replenish the soil, rather than relying on artificial fertilisers.

This is an understandable reaction to industrialised farming, but again we should be wary of neglecting the very real benefits of technological improvements to agriculture as represented by the Green Revolution. For instance, in 1964 India produced 12 million tons of wheat on 14 million hectares; 30 years later production was 57 million tons from 24 million hectares. Calculations show that without the benefits of the Green Revolution, an additional 36 million hectares of farming land would have been needed.59 Organic farming does not on its own prevent health dangers. In 2006 three people died and hundreds became ill as a result of e. coli infections from spinach grown on a Californian organic farm, nine died from salmonella linked to organic peanut plants in Texas and Georgia and in 2011 53 people died from e. coli after eating bean sprouts grown on a German organic farm.60 Such examples suggest that the problem is not simply pesticides and the solution simply organic farming, but a whole range of processes in agriculture that can lead to health issues.

Because organic farming is less dependent on fossil fuels (used in the manufacture of artificial chemicals and pesticides), it can lead to significant reductions in overall greenhouse gas emissions. A 2006 report, for instance, concluded that if 10 percent of all US maize were grown organically, it could save 4.6 million barrels of oil. This can also be true of the meat industry. The Soil Association in the UK has calculated that organic milk uses 38 percent less energy than non-organic; for beef the figures are 35 percent less, lamb 25 percent less.61 But again we must be wary of seeing these figures out of context. A 2012 Oxford University report concluded that “organic systems were often better for the environment per unit of land, but conventional systems were often better per unit of production”. This report also contradicted the Soil Association figures quoted above, suggesting that “organic milk, cereals, and pork production generated higher greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output than the conventional alternative”.62

The key conclusion is that organic farming methods have much to offer from an environmental point of view. But benefits are not automatic, and depend on volume and scale, as well as the use of technology in a way that is designed to reduce environmental impacts. Colin Tudge, a British campaigner for “enlightened farming”, argues that “organic farming need not be the absolute requirement… But it should be the default position: what farmers do unless there is a very good biological reason to do something else”.63

One final environmental and health impact of farming is particularly associated with the meat industry. This is the use of antibiotics to treat animals and improve their growth and productivity: “80 percent of antibiotic use in America is on farms, 70 percent…to boost growth or prevent disease rather than to treat it”.64 Antibiotic use is particularly associated with factory farming, where the close confinement of animals provides the potential for disease to spread easily.

But heavy use of antibiotics is breeding resilience in the bacteria it is intended to destroy, which then enter the food chain or can spread to humans through manure, etc. Over half of Dutch pig farmers and 40 percent of Dutch pigs, for instance, carry a strain of pig-MRSA, and tests suggest it is present in 35 percent of raw meat in the Netherlands. In Britain in 2011, 15 cases of a new strain of MRSA were found in milk from British dairies. Factory farming and over-use of antibiotics are helping to create super-strains of diseases. One study of salmonella in British chickens found that smaller flocks and non-caged birds were less likely to carry the disease.65 In 2010:

Over 18 percent of caged flocks tested positive for salmonella enteritidis, the most common strain causing food poisoning, compared with less than 3 percent of non-caged flocks. The largest flocks of 30,000 birds or more were seven times more likely to carry salmonella than the smallest flocks of 3,000 hens or less.66

Viral diseases such as bird flu and swine flu are closely associated with intensified farming for chickens and pigs, which provide perfect conditions for the evolution of new strains of these bugs.

There is no doubt that industrialised agriculture is a threat to the environment and to human health.67 What has caused this to happen?

Agriculture under capitalism

Agriculture is closely associated with the rise of capitalism. Marx saw “the expropriation of the agricultural producer…from the soil”68 as being key to the primitive accumulation that formed the basis for the development of capitalist society. This process created the basis for capitalist production, but also transformed the nature of agriculture and fuelled the growth of urban industry:

The spoliation of the church’s property, the fraudulent alienation of the State domains, the robbery of the common lands, the usurpation of feudal and clan property, and its transformation into modern private property under circumstances of reckless terrorism, were just so many idyllic methods of primitive accumulation. They conquered the field for capitalistic agriculture, made the soil part and parcel of capital, and created for the town industries the necessary supply of a “free” and outlawed proletariat.69

Agriculture under capitalism is, like every other branch of production, shaped by the need for the capitalists to accumulate wealth for the sake of further accumulation. Space precludes a detailed overview of modern agriculture, but the key point is that the agriculture of the developed world, supported by massive government subsidises and dominated by a small number of corporations, comes at the expense of the more traditional, small-scale and subsistence farming that has historically characterised most of the world.70

This domination can be summed up by Cargill Inc. Founded in 1865 and based in Minnesota, Cargill is now one of the world’s largest private corporations, with 2015 sales of $120.4 billion and earnings of $1.58 billion. It employs over 150,000 people in 70 countries, trading everything from cotton to animal feed, meat, cocoa and salt. The company says that “Cargill Beef is one of North America’s largest beef processors, harvesting more than eight million cattle and producing nearly eight billion pounds of boxed beef and by-products each year”. The company owns its own fleet of 500 ships to help distribute its products, including 120 “capesize” vessels, the largest dry goods ships in service.71

Corporations like Cargill have enormous influence in the world food system. In 2005 four companies controlled processing of 80 percent of US beef, three of them, together with another fourth company, controlled 60 percent of US pork, and 50 percent of chicken production comes from another four companies.

Silvia Ribeiro and Hope Shand explain the negative role of big business in agriculture:

Corporate concentration in agriculture has allowed a handful of powerful corporations to seize the agricultural research agenda, influence national and international trade and agricultural policy and engineer the acceptance of new technologies as the “science-based” solution to maximising food production. Although frequently promoted in the name of addressing the needs of the world’s poor and hungry, the benefits of these technologies typically [accrue] to those who develop and control them.72

Because they are driven by maximisation of profits, companies like Cargill put their profits before the interests of the environment or people. Cargill, for instance, has been the focus of a campaign against destructive production of palm oil, which, according to the Rainforest Action Network, meant the company had a “role in orangutan extinction, rainforest destruction, child labour and human rights abuses”.73 Palm oil is widely used in food production, but increasingly is used as an ingredient in biofuels. Biofuels are promoted as an alternative to fossil fuels, but there are significant environmental problems associated with them and question marks over their ability to reduce emissions compared to existing fossil fuels.

Cargill has an estimated $1 billion investment in the biofuels sector.74 But while acknowledging the dangers to food security and the environment, the company is concerned that its ability to make profits from the biofuel industry is not hampered by regulation:

Cargill believes biofuels can play an important role in meeting global energy and environmental needs, bringing capital investment to agriculture and boosting economic development in farm communities. However, the production of biofuels from food crops should be balanced against the need to provide food for a growing global population. We support dialogue among governments, farmers, cattle, pork and poultry producers, food manufacturers and the public to consider ways to balance the need for renewable energy with the importance of maintaining a secure food and feed supply. We favor market-driven policies, not inflexible mandates, subsidies and tariffs.75

Despite serious questions over their environmental credentials, biofuels are big business. In the run up to the passing of the 2014 Farm Act in the United States, major energy companies lobbied to ensure that subsidies for the fuel were protected. The amounts spent on lobbying can be astronomical. A report by the US Taxpayers for Common Sense, “Political Footprint of the Corn Ethanol Lobby”, says that between 2007 and 2014 Cargill spent over $11 million on lobbying. Another major international food corporation, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), spent over $12 million and the American Farm Bureau and State Organisations almost $49 million.76

The biofuel industry has a significant impact on food security and the environment. Yet the potential profits mean that corporations are prepared to fight to ensure they can continue to grow the crops. Paul McMahon explains the problem:

US biofuels policies have been strongly criticised for driving up the price of food, while delivering few environmental benefits…[these] policies have nothing to do with the environment, nor with feeding the poor. To a minor extent they are driven by a desire for energy security… But the primary objective of the biofuels policy is to provide financial support to American farmers. It is the latest in the long line of attempts to find uses for the country’s grain surpluses.77

There is a close link between the interests of agribusiness and those of national governments. The 2008 food crisis demonstrated that many countries were ill-prepared for price rises. In response a number of countries have begun to protect their interests by securing food elsewhere. Sometimes this has meant countries or corporations purchasing land for agriculture (or biofuels) in Africa and South America. These “land-grabs” have become shorthand for the way that peasant producers, local farming practices and the rights of indigenous peoples are brushed aside in the search for food security and profits.

Corporations often use the question of food security to justify their actions. In 2009, for instance, the Japanese trading house Mitsui was looking for “agricultural investments” in Central America, Asia and Eastern Europe. It offered “inputs and machinery to farmers in exchange for the right to buy harvests”, explaining that this was “not only good business; it would also satisfy the Japanese government’s desire to strengthen national food security”.78

It was through meetings of the G8 and G20 that the major countries tried to shape a response to the 2008 food crisis. While globally the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, as well as the World Trade Organisation, have shaped a neoliberal approach towards the development of the world economy, in terms of food and agriculture there are three key United Nations organisations. These are the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the World Food Programme (designed to manage food assistance to areas struck by drought, etc) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). Finally, the Consultative Group in International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is a body linked to the World Bank that tries to “extend the legacy of the original green revolution of the 1960s and 1970s by using science to develop improved seeds and more productive and sustainable farming…in the developing world”.79

All these bodies serve to ensure that neoliberal policies continue to sink deeper into world food and agriculture. What this means in practice can be seen from the World Bank and IMF structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) of the 1980s and 1990s. These systematically reduced the role of the state in agriculture in the developing world and promoted the production of food for trade. As US agriculture secretary John Block explained in 1986, “the idea that developing countries should feed themselves is an anachronism from a bygone era. They could better ensure their food security by relying on US agricultural products, which are available in most cases at a lower cost”.80

But even the World Bank had to admit that the result of the SAPs was a disaster for agriculture. In its 2008 World Development Report it acknowledged:

Structural adjustment in the 1980s dismantled the elaborate system of public agencies that provided farmers with access to land, credit, insurance, inputs and cooperative organisations. The expectation was that removing the state would free the market for private actors to take over these functions… Incomplete markets and institutional gaps impose huge costs in forgone growth and welfare losses for smallholders, threatening their competitiveness and, in many cases, their survival.81

World Bank policies decimated African smallholder and peasant farming in the interests of corporate agri-business. The consequences were appalling, with the rural population displaced, driven into unemployment or underemployment or forced to seek work in the cities.

As neoliberal policies enforce a switch to larger-scale farming at the expense of local, small-scale agriculture, they also have negative consequences for the environment. Even the UK government admitted in 2011 that:

Many systems of food production are unsustainable. Without change, the global food system will continue to degrade the environment and compromise the world’s capacity to produce food in the future, as well as contributing to climate change and the destruction of biodiversity… Nothing less is required than a redesign of the whole food system to bring sustainability to the fore.82

Is meat eating the problem?

Reducing emissions from agriculture will not be tackled by individuals switching to a non-meat based diet. The environmental damage from farming is a result of the nature of the industry under capitalism, with production determined by the need to make profits. Arguing for a switch to a meat-free diet is a dangerous strategy for the environmental movement because it places the blame on individuals as consumers, not the system as a whole.

As one scientist commented while reviewing Cowspiracy:

Movies like Cowspiracy aren’t believable, not only because of how they twist the science, but also because of what they ask us to believe: that the fossil fuel industry…aren’t the main cause of global warming; that the transition to clean energy isn’t what matters most for our future and our grandchildren’s; and that thousands of scientists have covered up the truth about the most important environmental issue of our time.83

The much derided “Western diet” that we are told is unhealthy and destructive for the environment is not a consequence of consumer choice, but is a result of corporate interests. Beef production on the US grasslands became closely associated with the production of grain. So profitable was the growing of grain for cattle feed, that from the late 1950s there was a drive to encourage more beef consumption. As Elaine Graham-Leigh has pointed out: “beef eating was so profitable that it was in companies’ interests to ensure that US consumption remained high. Consumers may have felt they were making a free choice to eat hamburgers, but there was in fact a concerted effort to encourage them to do so”.84

The choices that individuals make about food are very personal, but they are also shaped by the world that they live in. Processed food might be worse for the environment and your health, but for the parent returning home from a long shift it’s a quick way to feed their children. Time is one factor, but so is the cost of food with junk food being cheaper per calorie than other options.85

This is not to say we should not criticise the meat industry for its impact on the environment or our health. Questions of obesity and malnutrition are questions of class, as much as those of production. Elaine Graham-Leigh writes:

An argument which says that the production of large amounts of nutrient-poor, energy-dense food in the West is problematic for food consumption worldwide and for the climate (and has a tendency to make some individuals become fatter than they would otherwise be) is a world away from one which says that regardless of the interests vested in that pattern of food production and consumption, the responsibility lies only with those people who become fat because of it.86

The struggle for a sustainable agriculture will simultaneously be a struggle for healthier diets, with a corresponding decrease in meat consumption for some, but an increase for others. Doing this sustainably will mean challenging the priorities of a food system which, because it is driven by profit not the need to feed people, can waste a third of food produced for human consumption, equivalent to more than half the world’s annual cereal crops.87 It means changing the energy intensive factory farming that currently dominates in the developed world which means that a tonne of maize grown in the US uses 160 litres of oil compared to less than 5 litres in Mexico.88 It will also require an end to factory farming and the over-production of meat, which uses vast areas of land to grow livestock food, with an enormous impact on the environment, and promotes an unhealthy diet. Currently the cereals used to feed factory farmed animals could feed 3 billion people.89

Production under capitalism is not determined by need, or simply by consumer demand, but what is profitable; and the food industry is particularly adept at creating demand for its products. Fighting for sustainability in food and agriculture will not come by lecturing individuals demanding they stop buying meat products, but through a root and branch transformation of the food system itself.

The alternative

As we have seen, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture could be significantly reduced even within the existing system. But whether or not farmers and agribusiness will find it worthwhile to invest in technology or change established practices to reduce environmental impacts will depend on incentives and their ability to maintain profits. As the FAO points out in regard to livestock farming, though it applies equally to other sectors of agriculture: “In the absence of financial incentives (eg mitigation subsidies) or regulations to limit emissions, most producers are unlikely to invest in mitigation practices unless they increase profits or provide other production benefits such as risk reduction”.90

Creating a truly sustainable agriculture capable of feeding a growing world population through the 21st century will mean challenging the priorities of the world food system, the interests of agricultural big business and international bodies such as the World Bank. This will require political and economic struggles by the world’s working class and peasantry.

One solution offered by some commentators is “biodiverse ecological farming”. This means rejecting industrialised agriculture and encouraging small-scale farming. One of the leading proponents of this approach, Vandana Shiva, notes that “under globalisation, the farmer is losing her/his social, cultural and economic identity as a producer. A farmer is now a ‘consumer’ of costly seeds and costly chemicals sold by powerful global corporations through powerful landlords and moneylenders locally”.91

Agriculture, as practised by millions of smallholders and peasant farmers in the developing world, can be more sustainable, and more efficient at feeding populations healthily and well. However, a longer-term vision for sustainable farming cannot simply be a return to smallholding farming on a global scale. This is not to dismiss peasant agriculture. Small farms are usually portrayed as being unproductive, but the opposite is true and they tend to have other benefits—a lower impact on the environment, lower use of fossil fuels, the promotion and protection of biodiversity, and greater resilience to storms and hurricanes.92 Because smallholders avoid monoculture farming, they also produce more food per area than highly focused industrialised farming. However, this relies on the back-breaking work of peasant families. The working population in agriculture is about 1.3 billion people worldwide. A third of these rely on animal power and a further third use only manual tools. Thus some 400 million peasants feed a further 1 billion using only manual tools, without fertiliser, tractors, pesticides or livestock feed. This requires long hours of hard manual labour.93

As the German Marxist Karl Kautsky noted in his classic 1889 study The Agrarian Question, it would take “a very obdurate admirer of small-scale land ownership to see the advantages derived from forcing small cultivators down to the level of beasts of burden, into a life occupied by nothing other than work—apart from time set aside for sleeping and eating”.94

There are, however, growing social movements among small and peasant farmers for greater control of land and their livelihoods. One recent comparative study of social movements in South and Central America concludes:

For thousands of landless people in Brazil and for thousands of indigenous peasants in Chiapas, joining the MST [The Brazilian Landless Movement] or the EZLN [the Mexican Zapatista Army of National Liberation] is a profoundly life-changing experience. Casting their lot with the MST or the EZLN is a political experience that has allowed them to gain or protect their access to land and provide for their families. It is an experience that politicises them and generates a sense of individual and collective agency that throughout their lives they often felt they did not have.95

But these social movements are not enough to transform the global food system and its domination by big agribusiness. Doing this will require the development of wider alliances that can directly challenge the capitalist agriculture system.

As Miguel A Altieri has pointed out:

Rural social movements understand that dismantling the industrial agri-food complex and restoring local food systems must be accompanied by the construction of agro-ecological alternatives that suit the needs of small-scale producers and the low-income non-farming population, and that oppose corporate control over production and consumption… Moving toward a more socially just, economically viable, and environmentally sound agriculture will be the result of the coordinated action of emerging social movements in the rural sector in alliance with civil society organisations that are committed to supporting the goals of these farmers’ movements.96

Small farmers are locked into a wider global network of commodities, with capital tending to invest upstream and downstream in the supply of pesticides, genetically modified crops and equipment or in the distribution of food. In fact, the persistence of small-scale farmers and the peasantry is itself in part a result of the needs of a larger agricultural capitalism which needs their labour at specific times of the year, but requires them to subsist on their own smallholdings in between.97 For millions of peasants there is no way out of this trap without fundamental changes to the economic system. In the developed world most farmers are no longer the smallholding producers they are traditionally seen as, but contractors servicing the bigger corporations and dependent on the whims of the supermarkets.98 Breaking this cycle of poverty and hard labour means the transformation of agriculture, not the romanticisation of a particular form of peasant agriculture.


In his studies of the works of the German chemist Justus von Liebig, Karl Marx developed a critique of the unsustainable nature of agriculture under capitalism, closely linked to his concept of the metabolic rift. Marx argued that there could be a rational agriculture, but it would mean the transformation of production and land ownership. Under capitalism, “instead of a conscious and rational treatment of the land as permanent communal property, as the inalienable condition for the existence and reproduction of the chain of human generations, we have the exploitation and the squandering of the powers of the earth”.99

In 1964 Tony Cliff wrote a self-described “revisionist” account: “Marxism and the Collectivisation of Agriculture”. Cliff argued that the immediate impact of a socialist revolution would probably be to “give the private farm a new lease of life under the socialist regime”. But the transformation of production would gradually undermine this:

The socialist regime, by raising living standards all round, assuring security of employment, and comprehensive pensions for old age and sickness, will deflate the value of economic “independence” represented in the private ownership of the farm… Thus the organisation of agriculture in co-operative farms is bound to be an extremely slow process, impeded by some factors that are brought into play by the new socialist regime, not gaining much stimulation from the assumed decline of small farming under the technical superiority of the large ones. The process of the transition of agriculture from individual to collectivist methods will thus be the result of the abundance of wealth and culture in highly developed societies. Individual farming will not be overthrown, but sublimated.100

It is only agriculture like this, rooted in the collective ownership of the land and the means of production, that will be able to produce enough healthy food to feed the world in a sustainable way in the long term.

Martin Empson is the treasurer of the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union group and the author of Land and Labour: Marxism, Ecology and Human History.


1 I’d like to thank Alex Callinicos, Esme Choonara, Sarah Ensor, Suzanne Jeffery, Ian Rappel and Camilla Royle for their comments on drafts of this article.

2 Klein, 2015.

3 Graham-Leigh, 2014, pp7-8.

4 It is worth noting that Cowspiracy never mentions any agricultural corporations, nor does it investigate food production outside of the United States so there is no attempt to discuss the question of livestock agriculture in the developing world, or the role of animals (such as for ploughing or transport) in agriculture outside of their use for meat, milk and eggs.

5 Because this article focuses on the question of agriculture and climate change, some of the wider debates are only touched on or omitted entirely. There are many books that take these further including my own—Empson, 2014. Other books that are useful include Magdoff and Tokar, 2010, Lymbery, 2014, Graham-Leigh, 2014 and McMahon, 2013.

6 Goodland and Anhang, 2009, p11.

7 Gerber and others, 2013, pxii.

8 Steinfeld and others, 2006.

9 The FAO’s acknowledgement of “methodological refinements and improved data” is in Gerber and others, 2013, p15. See Paarlberg, 2013, p132 for more on the limits of the 2006 FAO report. The “flawed” figures are still quoted at for example.

10 Chivers, 2016.

11 DEFRA, 2015b, pp16-19. Total UK emissions from agriculture in 2013 were 53.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, a decrease of 19 percent since 1990. The decrease has a variety of causes, including a reduction in the amount of livestock and “substantial” reductions in the use of nitrogen fertilisers. Annual figures for the UK can be found in DEFRA, 2015a, p12.

12 Tubiello and others, 2014, p20 and p23. “CO2 equivalent” means the amount of CO2 that would have the same warming effect.

13 IPCC, 2014, p816.

14 Vermeulen, Campbell and Ingram, 2012.

15 Jones, 2014.

17 Gerber and others, 2013, p23.

18 Gerber and others, 2013, pp68-69.

19 Gerber and others, 2013, p46.

20 Gerber and others, 2013, pp50-51.

21 Gerber and others, 2013, p40.

22 Gerber and others, 2013, p41.

23 Gerber and others, 2013, p42.

24 Gerber and others, 2013, p53.

25 Gerber and others, 2013, p42.

26 Ince, 2014. I am indebted to John Parrington for pointing this out to me.

27 Gerber and others, 2013, pp76-78.

28 Lymbery, 2014, p193.

29 For more on the industrial chicken, see Lymbery, 2014, pp187-196.

30 Gerber and others, 2013, pp35-36.

31 Gerber and others, 2013, p44.

32 Adonizio, Kook and Royales, 2012, p2.

33 Pollack, 2010, pp200-202.

34 USGCRP, 2016.

35 Foster, Clark and York, 2010, p46.

36 Marx, 1992, p949.

37 Lymbery, 2014, p13.

38 Lymbery, 2014, pp63-64.

39 Lymbery, 2014, p68.

40 Lymbery, 2014, p70.

41 Philpott, 2014a.

42 I am indebted to Adam Rose for this point.

43 Quoted in Foster and Clark, 2016.

44 McMahon, 2013, p89.

45 Philpott, 2014b.

46 Shiva, 2014, p222.

47 Magdoff and Tokar, 2010, p243.

48 McMahon, 2013, p66.

49 McMahon, 2013, p66.

50 Lymbery, 2014, p172.

51 Agriculture run-off in the UK is one of the major reasons why the UK is not expected to meet the Water Framework Directive well beyond the deadline of 2021.

52 Lymbery, 2014, p23.

53 China also has enormous cow factories. In July 2015 one was being built to house 100,000 cattle to supply milk and cheese to Russian markets. Go to

54 Lymbery, 2014, p24.

55 Paarlberg, 2013, pp117-118.

56 Paarlberg, 2013, pp127-128.

57 Hashmi and Khan, 2011, p161.

58 Paarlberg, 2013, pp72-73.

59 Paarlberg, 2013, p73.

60 Paarlberg, 2013, p173.

61 Figures from, Lymbery, 2014, pp238-239.

62 Paarlberg, 2013, p175. The Oxford University study is summarised at

63 Tudge, 2011, p68.

64 Lymbery, 2014, p139.

65 Lymbery, 2014, pp144-145.

66 Lymbery, 2014, p145.

67 While this article focuses on agriculture, these conclusions are also true of the fishing industry. See Lymbery, 2014, chapter 5, and Ensor, 2016.

68 Marx, 1990, p876. See Saito, 2014, for an important study of how Marx developed his understanding of capitalist agriculture in the context of contemporary scientific debates.

69 Marx, 1990, p895.

70 I’ve explored this in detail in chapter 10 of Empson, 2014.

71 All information on Cargill Inc. from (accessed March 2016).

72 Quoted in Bello, 2009, pp110-111.

73 Rainforest Action Network, 2014.

74 Bello, 2009, p109.

77 McMahon, 2013, p58.

78 McMahon, 2013, p171.

79 Paarlberg, 2013, pp210-211.

80 Quoted in Bello, 2009, p76.

81 Quoted in Bello, 2009, p81.

82 Quoted in McMahon, 2013, p69.

83 Boucher, 2016.

84 Graham-Leigh, 2014, p56.

85 Graham-Leigh, 2014, p172.

86 Graham-Leigh, 2014, p17.

87 See the FAO’s “Key Facts on Food Loss and Waste you Should Know!”—

88 Magdoff and Tokar, 2010, p65.

89 Lymbery, 2014, p253.

90 Gerber and others, 2013, p60.

91 Quoted in Bello, 2009, pp35-36.

92 Altieri, 2009.

93 Mazoyer and Roudart, 2006, p13.

94 Kautsky, 1988, p111.

95 Vergara-Camus, 2014, p301.

96 Altieri, 2009, p112.

97 See Boltvinik, 2012.

98 Thanks to Ian Rappel for this point.

99 Marx, 1992, pp948-949. It should be noted that here Marx criticises both “small-scale” and “large-scale” agriculture for this failing, but argues that they fail for different reasons. Small-scale farming is at fault because of “a lack of the resources and science needed to apply the social productive powers of labour”, but in the case of large-scale agriculture it is because of the “exploitation of such means for the most rapid enrichment of farmer and proprietor”.

100 Cliff, 1964.


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