78,000 - The number of pigs killed every week at one Danish slaughterhouse.
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 whole process is automated, from when the pigs are stunned with C02 in mini gas chambers through to being eviscerated and having their backs split in preparation for butchering. Either the whole carcass or the cured bacon will then be dispatched in refrigerated lorries to Tulip Ltd in the UK.
The bacon in your BLT will be Danish. 8,886 pig farms in Denmark produce 25 million pigs for slaughter annually. In 1985 there were 44,222 farms, but today 9% of farms have more than 4,000 pigs – a clear sign of industrialisation. Danish pigs are confined in a succession of sheds from birth, with the size of cage and space they are allotted determined by weight. A pig weighing under 10kg is given 0.15m2 space, just over half the width of this page, rising in six increments to 1m2 for a pig weighing 90-100kg – slaughter weight. A century of breeding has created the Landrace pig, which is prized for its ‘uniformity of product’.
The Danish swineherd produces nine billion litres of manure a year. A sow producing an average 22 pigs for slaughter at 90 kg 'liveweight’ can excrete around 100 kg of nitrogen and 18-20 kg of phosphorous a year. Most of this washes away from under the pig pens into rivers and aquifers. The OECD say, ‘Impacts on the environment include the degradation of aquatic ecosystems, air pollution from odours and ammonia emissions, as well as impacts on soil quality and biodiversity.’
Pig feed comes in the same dry, pelleted mix throughout the pigs' lives. It comprises of barley, wheat, soya, minerals, fat, fishmeal and milk. Proportions vary as the pig nears slaughter weight – so the level of soya in weaner feed is 8% rising to 20% in finishers. Soya is liked because it’s cheap and has a high protein content, which promotes weight gain. This ingredient, which is vital to industrial pig farming, travels 7,568 miles.
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. The annual premature death rate of pigs on commercial Danish farms runs at just over 20%.
Fishmeal is made from what is known as ‘lean’ fish (haddock and cod) and ‘industrial’ fish (including herring, sardines and mackerel). Fishmeal is made by cooking, pressing, drying and grinding the fish, which can take place at sea on board factory ships.
A recent study which followed 200,000 Hawaiian men and women over seven years found those with a high diet of meat containing sodium nitrite had a 67% increased risk of pancreatic cancer. It has also been linked to colorectal cancer, leukemia in children and brain tumors in infants. The industry likes it because it enhances colour and texture and reduces waste by killing bacteria, mainly botulism. Sodium triphosphate is another preservative that performs a similar function.
A typical bacon flavour will consist of 12-20 chemicals. These chemicals will come from processing plants in either Germany or the UK. Sugar and apple are used to off-set the harshness of the salt required to cure the bacon. Alongside the other flavouring, smoke flavour is also injected.
Stabiliser ingredients are not used in their natural form. For instance, honey will be dried as the liquid version is too difficult to handle. So the honey is put through a spray drier to replace the moisture with maltodextrin, producing a dry powder. Most honey for this purpose will come from the company Avebe in France or ICI in the UK. As with synthesising any chemical for food processing, this is an energy intensive process.
To make it palatable the bacon in your BLT is injected with salt, sugar, apple, flavouring, sodium triphosphate, honey, chicory and sodium nitrite. The different flavourings used by different manufacturers are ‘trade secrets’, which, of course, denies us an informed choice about what we put in our mouths. These ingredients come from France and Germany, adding 1,049 food miles to your BLT.
90% of the world’s soya harvest – 200m tonnes – goes into animal feed. Denmark is a major purchaser of soya from Argentina, the world’s third biggest producer of genetically modified (GM) soya after America and Canada. Food labels such as that on your BLT do not have to state if animals have been fed on a GM diet.
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.
There are also increasing health concerns regarding soya in the food chain. The bean is high in phyto-oestregens that have been linked to an increased risk of some cancers in humans and sterility in men. It has also been claimed that it damages brain function in men and causes hidden developmental abnormalities in infants.
LETTUCE & TOMATO
1,070 - The number of dams used to irrigate horticulture in southern Spain
Ten per cent of lettuces in Spain are grown in polymer tunnels, the rest are grown in the open.
In both cases, the 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. The average lettuce crop takes around 60 days from seeding to harvest. During the growing period migrant labour is used to weed and thin the crop by hand.
Finally the lettuce is cut by hand, wrapped or bagged and transported to a cold store where it is cooled to 0°C. This keeps it fresh-looking but destroys the nutrients. It will then be put on a refrigerated lorry, where it will be kept at temperatures between 0-5°C, on its journey to the UK.
Seeds for lettuce and tomato crops in Spain probably come from Syngenta (head office Cambridge), with a turnover of around $2,000 million. Alongside seeds, Syngenta is one of the world’s leading makers of pesticides.
Seed companies develop new hybrids to meet the supermarkets’ demand for innovation, or to suit their production and distribution processes – ie, something that lasts much longer on the shelf. The seeds are patented and expensive. If a lettuce turns up at a supermarket depot with an aphid, blemish, or slug still on it, a farmer’s whole batch may be rejected.
Hence, seed companies such as Syngenta supply an agrochemical recipe to go with them. The farmer can’t afford to risk not following the advice and Syngenta benefits twice. Many seeds now come with a seed dressing of pesticides applied.
The plastic-sheeted tomato greenhouses of Almeria can be seen from space. 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.
As with lettuce, seeds are selected on the basis of yield, resistance to common diseases, and consumer preferences. For instance, tomatoes produce ethylene, a plant hormone which promotes aging. This is often inhibited so that the tomatoes arrive looking red and firm but are unripened and consequently lack flavour. The seeds will be germinated for 15 days in a nursery before being transplanted to the greenhouse. They are drip-fed water, fertiliser and pesticides in the same way as lettuces, using the same feed ingredients in different blends.
Harvesting is wholly manual and the tomatoes are again immediately cold-stored and chilled on their journey to the UK.
Due to the poor fertility of soil in southern Spain, fertilisers are heavily used. These contain nitrogen, potassium, calcium, sulfur, magnesium, iron, manganese, boron, copper and zinc. A study concluded that growers are applying 1 tonne of nitrogen per hectare, as opposed to 200 kg N/ha for crops in a rotation, which creates a vicious circle: the nitrogen causes the soil to deteriorate further meaning more fertiliser is required. The run-off causes algae blooms in rivers, causing ‘dead zones’.
In humans nitrate turns to nitrite which decreases the ability of the blood to carry oxygen. Excess levels of nitrogen in humans has been linked to heart-disease and numerous cancers. Roughly half of the inorganic nitrogen ever used on the planet has occurred in the past 15 years. The production and use of nitrogen also contributes to climate change. As a greenhouse gas, nitrogen is 300 times more potent than C02. Nitrogen use as a growth promoter is expected to double over the next 40 years.
Southern Spain is the driest part of Europe and is facing a water crisis. As there is not enough water to naturally sustain horticulture, Spain is one of the most irrigated countries in the world, with 3.5 million hectares relying on it as a source of water. Spain has 1,070 dams for this purpose. Increasingly, however, diverting water is causing friction between regions, which is why the construction of 20 desalination units is being considered.
Meanwhile, a report from the WWF has said Spain has over half a million illegal boreholes used to irrigate agricultural land, often paid for in part by EU agricultural subsidies. This means aquifers are being plundered causing untold environmental damage, destroying wetlands, causing soil erosion and allowing sea water to enter the water table. This combination of events caused by growing salad ingredients in a wholly unsuitable environment resulted in the International Soil Conservation Organisation Conference warning in 2004 that Murcia is on the brink of desertification. Waterwise has calculated it takes 10 litres of water to grow one tomato and 22 litres to grow one portion of lettuce
Desalination is an energy intensive process. ‘It is estimated that a desalination plant that produces 50 million gallons of freshwater a day consumes approximately 35 megawatts of electricity a day, enough to provide electricity to approximately 35,000 homes,’ a white paper for California American Water reported in 2005.
Furthermore there is the problem of what to do with the brine, which is twice the concentrate of the seawater originally taken. Roughly 30 per cent of the water desalinated becomes brine. In Spain this could be allowed to evaporate or returned to the sea. Both threaten the environment in that excess salt in the sea can kill much of the marine life and lead to dead zones, and in the atmosphere salt will make the land more acid and less fertile, hastening desertification. When promoting the desalination plan Spain’s environment minister said it would stop farmers using raw sewage to water their plants.
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'.
Residues most commonly detected are of inorganic bromide, a metabolite of the soil sterilant methyl bromide. A worldwide ban on methyl bromide should have come into effect last year, but Spain secured exemptions for continued use. This is an ozone-depleting 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. A Dutch study in 2004 found that Spanish tomatoes had 90 times more pesticides present than those from Holland or the US.
Horticultural production in Spain depends on the use of large armies of migrant workers, most of whom hail from sub-Saharan Africa and have risked their lives crossing to Spain from Morocco. Without this cheap casual labour – they are paid the equivalent of around £20 a day – the system would collapse. These casual workers live rough as near as possible to where there is work. Over half have no access to drinking water or sanitation. According to official estimates some 70,000 migrants live this way.
Once harvested the lettuce and tomato will be sent to the UK. G’s Marketing in Cambridge is the UK’s largest supplier of veg to the retail and wholesale sector and owns 2,120 hectares in Murcia. They also have 20 suppliers in the region. 50% of lettuce in UK shops is imported, the majority of which, 67,000 tonnes comes from Spain. G's will sell their produce either direct to wholesalers and retailers or via a middle-man, such as Mack Multiples, which is one of the country’s largest importers.
The UK is largely self-sufficient in wheat (likewise with barley). Domestic wheat accounts for 80-85 per cent of flour used in bread. The rest is made up of imported wheat from the US, Canada and Germany, each with different characteristics to help produce the high protein flour needed for industrially produced bread.
Factory bread requires a specific type of flour that is high in protein and produced from hard winter wheat. 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. An additional 10 varieties of lower quality wheat can be used in breadmaking blends, if they are combined with high quality wheat imported from elsewhere.
Only 25 per cent of the wheat grown in the UK is used for making flour. 50 per cent is used for biscuit making, distilling and export. The remainder is used for animal feed.
Wheat is treated with a variety of pesticides at every stage of its production. Around 4.7 tonnes of pesticides were applied in commercial UK grain stores at, or during, storage, accounting for 38% of the total weight of stored grain. Wheat is grown using a variety of pesticides and a study by the UK’s Pesticides Residues Committee (PRC) in 2005 found that wholemeal bread contained more pesticide residues than any other bread type. Wholemeal bread contains more of the oily germ that acts like a magnet for lipophilic (fat-loving) pesticides.
Traces of the genetically modified crops have been found in both the unmilled wheat and flour used to make bread. Biotech soybeans and corn, the two most widely grown GM crops in the world, are the likely culprits. Rank Hovis imports US wheat to its mills and the company’s own in-house testing has repeatedly found evidence of GM soybeans and corn particles mixed in with wheat supplies.
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 containing 635,000,000 wheat berries. They supply flour in package sizes ranging from 1kg to 29 tonnes to plant bakeries such as its sister company British Bakeries. Industrially processed flour is lower in nutrients than traditionally milled flour. And the longer the flour is stored before usage the more nutrients it loses. Flour can be stored for 15 to 60 days, although rancidity has been detected as early as 2-14 days after milling.
Rancid flour and the bread made with it may have important health effects. In a study where rats were either fed freshly ground flour or bread made from freshly ground flour, or were fed rancid flour and the bread made from rancid flour, the animals eating the latter became infertile within just 4 generations.
Modern mills can produce more flour more quickly, but they also alter the quality of that flour in fundamental ways. Nutrients are lost which is why by law flour millers must ensure that the following nutrients are added back into all wheat flour other than wholemeal flour:
Calcium carbonate: 235mg/100g
The problem, apart form the ethics of forcibly medicating the population, is that these nutrients are often added in forms that are not as easily assimilated by the body as naturally occurring nutrients. In some instances, as with thiamine, the baking process can destroy the added nutrients.
High yielding and more profitable winter wheat has largely replaced spring-sown crops in the UK, with a disastrous effect on the environment. Farmland birds such as the grey partridge, turtle dove, skylark, linnet, tree sparrow and corn bunting have all experienced massive population declines due to habitat destruction.
Plants that thrive in arable fields including the shepherd’s needle, cornflower and corn cockle are also under threat and with them, invertebrates that depend upon them – around 2,000 (not counting micro-organisms) – are also in decline. The destruction of habitat spreads beyond the UK. Most industrial bread contains vegetable fat, often made from palm oil. Over 80 per cent of the world's production of palm oil comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, 6,530 miles away.
Endangered species such as the Sumatran rhinoceros, Asian elephant, orang-utan and tiger are losing their natural habitat as the palm oil plantations encroach upon the tropical forests.
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.
Plant bakeries can churn out bread at a rate of more than 8,000 loaves per hour, and at the largest bakeries around 1.5 million plus loaves per week.
Today around 80% of the UK industrial bread market, which produces over 7 million large loaves per day, is operated by a dozen or so companies operating from around 60 industrial bakeries. Traditional bread takes 2-24 hours to make. Modern bread is shortcut bread. Produced by what is known as the Chorleywood process, basic ingredients can be transformed to a sliced loaf in less than 3 hours.
The British baking industry employs around 125,000 people, of which about 50,000 are bakers. Approximately 20,000 are employed in the plant bakeries, where wages are low: the basic rate for plant bakery workers is between £7,600 and £9,600 a year.
The Chorleywood process is energy intensive, consuming 4-8 times the energy necessary to produce bread the traditional way.
According to figures released by the European Commission, Allied Bakeries, emitted more than 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2004 – a figure greater than that of many small countries.
Traditional bread needs nothing more than flour, water and yeast. Short cut bread needs lots of additives to turn the dough into a loaf.
Ascorbic acid, or E300 The main constituent of vitamin C is not necessary in traditional breadmaking. It’s used as an ‘improver’ to increase the level to which the dough rises.
Yeast Levels of up to 1.75% of wheat are used in dough made by the Chorleywood process, compared with 0.5% 50 years ago. The increase is yeast is now being linked to a dramatic increase in yeast intolerance in the West. The yeast is cultivated in molasses, which comes from South America, 5,961 miles away.
Salt CBP bread is tasteless and so requires more salt to give it flavour. As a result modern bread is now considered a high salt food that increases our risk of high blood pressure.
Water Used as a cheap bulking agent that can account for 45% or more of a factory loaf. Modified fatty acids, with no nutritional value, are necessary to hold the water in the mix. The more water there is in bread the less nutritious it is.
Enzymes Often genetically modified, these are used to speed up the Chorleywood process and to enhance taste and keeping qualities. Because these genetically modified enzymes are classed as ‘baking aids’ they needn’t be declared on the labelling of the bread. Most dough additives come from processing plants in France, Germany and Italy, adding a further 6,355 food miles to your BLT.
BUTTER & MAYONNAISE
The UK dairy industry is the most subsidised agriculture sector and is paid for producing a surplus. In 2004 Dairy Crest, the UK’s largest dairy processor, received £19.8m fom EU Common Agricultural Policy funds – despite making £85m. In total UK dairy processors received over £50 million. Since 2004 Dairy Crest and Nestle have claimed £126m of taxpayers' money for sending surplus butter and milk powder to poor countries.
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.
Dairy cows are fed a diet of silage (wet, fermented grass) and high protein feed (a mixture of cereals, rape meal, sunflower meal, maize and soya, much of it GM; (see Pig Feed). Male calves are unwanted. 200,000 are shot at birth and incinerated. The rest are fattened for use in low-grade fast food products.
Dairy Crest is the likely source of the butter in your BLT. Approximately 20 kg of whole milk goes into 1 kg of butter. Churning cream into butter by hand could take half an hour or more. Industrially produced butter is churned in a giant cylinder fitted with a beater rotating at about 2,700 rpm, which converts the cream into butter in a matter of seconds.
Industrial butter making is energy intensive. Fossil fuels
and electricity are necessary for powering electric motors on process equipment, for heating, evaporating and drying, for cooling and
refrigeration, and for the generation of compressed air.
Butter is usually packaged in plastic boxes in bulk quantities (25 kg) for long-term storage or large scale catering.
Mayonnaise is an emulsion of egg yolk and oil. Companies producing mayonnaise for the sandwich industry generally source their eggs from the most competitive markets, so they can come from the UK but equally they may come from Spain, Germany or Holland.
Similarly, depending on the supplier the eggs may come from intensive farming and/or from free-range farming, or more likely a mix of both. As a consumer you may never know what you are eating unless the ingredients label makes a specific claim for organic or cruelty-free eggs. Intensively farmed chickens are amongst the most abused animals in the farming system. Battery farms – where hens are stacked on top of each other in cages so small that they cannot stretch their wings, walk or scratch at the ground during their short lifetimes – exist to supply the food market with the cheapest possible eggs.
On the largest farms 90,000 caged hens may be crammed into one windowless shed. Even if the eggs are free-range there are nagging welfare issues. In many commercial ‘free-range’ egg farms, hens may have little more than a single, narrow exit leading to an enclosure, too small to accommodate all of the birds at once. Many will never see the light of day.
Some makers of mayonnaise like Suffolk Foods produce their products in-house, others like the giant Unilever Bestfoods outsource some or all of their production to other countries. It takes 15 minutes to produce 500-100kg of mayonnaise and package it into 10-litre tubs.
Real vinegar gets its sharp and complex flavours from a lengthy fermentation process. This cheap short-cut non-fermented vinegar gets its sharp taste from added alcohol.
British Sugar is the UK’s largest supplier of sugar, processing some 9 million tonnes of sugar beet – the UK’s entire crop – each year. Real mayonnaise does not require sugar. In industrial mayonnaise it is used to counter the strong taste of the spirit vinegar and also has stabilising properties.
Milk production is land intensive. To produce a tonne of butter requires 30 hectares, compared to less than one hectare for a tonne of vegetables. Intense dairy farming generates solid manure and manure slurries. These along with the chemical fertilisers and pesticides used in the production of pastures and fodder crops, can pollute surface water and groundwater.
Dairy processing requires large quantities of fresh water – primarily for cleaning process equipment and work areas. At modern dairy processing plants, a water consumption rate of 1.3–2.5 litres water/kg of milk intake is typical. Between 0.5–4% of the milk coming into a processing plant is discharged as effluent, into public sewers in urban areas, or to irrigate land in rural areas. If not managed correctly, salts in the effluent damage soil, cause salinity and pollute groundwater.
Although it is called a bakery, Bradgate in Leicester does not make bread. It was established in 1993 specifically to make pre-packaged sandwiches. It started out making 11 varieties and now makes 60, producing over one million sandwiches a week for Tesco and its sister company Ginsters. Bradgate employs 800 people and is in production 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week and has a turnover of £20m a year.
Bradgate is part of the Samworth Brothers Group. The company has two distribution centres in Leicestershire and Cornwall with a fleet of over 60 articulated lorries, collectively covering over nine million miles each year. The two distribution centres handle over 30 million cases of product a year and will deliver to Samworth Brothers' customers and a number of third party customers at destinations from Aberdeen to Penzance.
The plastic wedge, or 'skillet' that your sandwich comes in is only the tip of the ice-berg in terms of packaging. At the meat processing plant, in the lettuce fields and tomato greenhouses, in bakeries and chicken farms plastic packaging is required so that food can be transported.
Around 4% of the world’s annual oil production is used in food packaging and a further 3-4% in its production. Although it is technically recyclable this doesn't always happen. Due to the logistics of separating out such packaging it either has to go to landfill or be incinerated (see Ecologist, July/August 2006).
Waste from ‘food on the go’ such as sandwiches increased by 10% between 2004 and 2005, say DEFRA. Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) – which removes some or all of the oxygen from packaging and replaces it with gases such as C02 and nitrogen – is used throughout the journey the ingredients take. It is a techno-fix to keep the food fresh looking, although it destroys many of its natural nutrients.
Mayonnaise is comprised of around 70% ‘vegetable oil’ – a generic term that usually means oilseed rape (also known as canola). Around 600,000 hectares is grown annually in the UK. While the UK is about 90% self-sufficient large refineries such as Cargill will supply manufacturers with raw materials from wherever the price is most competitive. Thus the oil in your mayonnaise may be from the UK, or from Europe or America, and therefore may be GM.
The ingredients of your BLT have travelled over 31,000 miles and left a trail of destruction in their wake. If that’s what it takes to produce a BLT then it’s not too difficult to comprehend what’s gone into your chicken tikka masala TV dinner or other processed foods. You will notice that there is no mention on the BLT label of nutritional value. That’s because there is none. You are getting energy alone and an unhealthy dose of fat (55% of your recommended daily intake) and salt (59% of your RDI). This is because of the way the ingredients are synthesised and grown to make them look nicer and last longer.
Foods high in such chemicals and fat and salt have been linked with heart disease and an increase in many forms of cancer. Indeed, the health effects of eating such foods are so widely known they feature in popular TV programmes such as Honey, We’re Killing the Kids, where devastated parents are shown how their children will look aged 40 unless their diet and lifestyle change.
Yet we rarely hear of the food industry’s role in this health crisis talked about in the corridors of power. Indeed, the government under pressure from food industry lobbyists recently caved in and allowed many manufacturers to miss targets to reduce the level of salt in processed foods ‘for manufacturing reasons’. The iconic BLT is a symbol of this process, which leaves a devastating health and environmental footprint. It’s the money you pay for your BLT and other convenience foods that is supporting this insane trade. In the UK we spend nearly £3bn on 1.7 billion pre-packaged sandwiches annually.
As the government refuse to act against the food industry the only option open to us is to stop buying these ersatz products.
Instead, wherever possible, buy locally grown products – which means they will retain their nutritional value; even more if you can source organically grown – and make your own sandwiches and meals. It’s good for you and it’s good for the planet.
Additional reporting: Sophie Hackford, Xenia Tolstoy, David Altabev.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist September 2006