In a fiery debate at the Oxford Real Farming Conference, George Monbiot’s vision that synthetic food would replace most agricultural production in the next few decades was greeted with disbelief and derision.
The journalist, whose Channel 4 Apocalypse Cow TV programme had aired the night before, said being at the conference would have been similar to attending a typewriter conference in the 1970s where delegates were discussing the latest ribbons and not the looming threat of personal computers.
“We are on the cusp of the biggest change in food production in 12,000 years with a move from farming to ferming,” he said.
“We will need less than one per cent of the land we currently need for agriculture, with fruit and vegetables the only farming sectors left. It will, of course, have big implications for farmers and I lay out the vision in warning as much as celebration, although it could be provide an opportunity to address climate change.”
Food commentator Joanna Blythman described Mr Monbiot as a self-declared expert on climate change who ignores the nutritional and environmental benefits of sustainable livestock production.
“There are essential vitamins and minerals which can only be replaced by supplements and processed food,” she said.
“Suggesting hyper-processing of food is the way ahead is not just nonsense but also dangerous.”
Richard Young of the Sustainable Food Trust accused Mr Monbiot of using untruths to support his argument against the production of meat, particularly over-estimating the carbon impact of eating beef compared to flying and underestimating the positive protein contribution of lamb.