A Focus On Nature

Books and Reviews

Book Review: Dead Zone by Philip Lymbery

Dead Zone is nothing less than an eyeopener. If you care about the planet and how the food we produce and eat is affecting it, you must read this book. Dead Zone sheds light on the myth that to provide for the world’s ever-increasing population livestock needs to be crammed into sheds, and fields and prairies around the globe drowned in pesticides and fertilisers, when in fact the opposite is true.

Not only is it informative, factual, and methodically-researched, but a beautifully-written anecdote with personal prose of childhood tales and his travels around the world conducting primary research. The personal touch to the plight of the animals and people Lymbery encounters gives this book even greater depth and his credentials as a Professor at the University of Winchester and Chief Executive of the international organisation Compassion in World Farming gives this work credibility. So often non-fiction books can be dull and hard to read, but Lymbery’s intimate style of writing makes the quandaries of the wildlife he looks at accessible and all the more real to the reader.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the greatest threats facing the world’s most iconic megafauna today (such as polar bears and tigers) are climate change and habitat loss. When in fact, one of the biggest driving factors of decline is intensive agriculture, a key perpetrator of habitat destruction fuelled by our obsessive need for cheap meat.

Very few shoppers will realise that the dairy and meat they buy is often from palm-fed animals. I was shocked to discover that even as a vegetarian, in having my morning cup of tea with a splash of absent-mindedly bought milk, I could be contributing in my own way to the demise of struggling jungle wildlife. The palm kernels fed to the cow that produced my milk, could have been from palm plantations where once stood swathes of luscious jungle habitat.

Lymbery reveals that we already produce enough food to feed twice the current world population. However, much of it is wasted. The biggest source of food waste on the planet is the diversion of arable crops fit for human consumption to industrially-reared animals. If across the world, all grain-fed animals were returned to being pasture-fed, there would be enough additional soya and cereal crop to feed an extra 4 billion people. It just seems incredible that we can allow food waste to occur on such a scale when according to hunger and world poverty, globally a person dies from hunger or malnutrition every second!

Each chapter is carefully organised with a focus on one key species. Lymbery creates a tour of the decline of thirteen iconic species from around the world from the drop of white stork populations in Poland due to an increase in intensive agriculture, to the steep decline of the UK’s wild bee population attributed to the loss of flower-rich grassland to monocultures of grass destined for intensive grazing.

This book highlights all that is wrong with today’s intensified industrial farming regime and the detrimental effects it’s having on species worldwide. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Lymbery also highlights the successes in the farming industry and positive shifts in attitudes. For example, in the past most major mayonnaise manufacturers would have used eggs from caged hens and the majority of supermarkets were stocked with caged hens’ eggs too. However, thanks to the hard work of organisations such as Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA, this is a thing of the past. Even the renowned household favourite, Heinz Mayonnaise uses free-range eggs in its products today.

This book is a warning of what’s to come if we carry on industrially farming as we are now. It’s slightly reminiscent to me of Rachel Carson’s alarm-bell book ‘Silent Spring’ released back in 1962, but it carries the same message – it’s not too late for change. You can save the planet with a choice, a choice that as Lymbery states ‘you get to make three times a day’.

Caroline is a young naturalist from Kent with a passion for all aspects of the natural world. She is about to start her second year as an Ecology Undergraduate at the University of Aberystwyth and hopes to one day have a career as an ecologist or conservationist. She has done lots of volunteering over the years for various organisations including the RSPB, but is currently enjoying documenting her experiences with nature on her blog which can be found at https://littlesandpiper.wordpress.com/ or alternatively on twitter @littlesandpiper.