Someone, something, somewhere pays

A poem about the true cost of food. A factory farmed chicken fillet may seem a bargain, but what about the true cost? From environmental pollution to animal welfare, from a human health crisis to trafficking for forced labour in food processing plants. It adds up to a lot more than £1.50.

By Elizabeth Willmott-Harrop

23 April 2014

This poem was first published in the May 2014 issue of Live Encounters Magazine

A broiler chicken bustles about his overcrowded shed
Amonia fills the air from droppings that are never cleared
His eyes sting and fail
His legs and feet are burned by the caustic floor
Legs deform and buckle under the weight of his overfed, exercise-less body

Confined for life, unable to forage, dust-bathe and perch
Eyes blank, as his life force dies behind them
A sorry damp spark, that never enflames[1]

Part of this tortured zombie
Becomes a supermarket chicken fillet
Factory farmed for £1.50
A translucent pink solution to the consumer’s tight budget
And the corporate need for large profits

But what about the true cost[2] for all the earth lost?

Antibiotics pumped into healthy farm animals
Create a human health crisis of superbugs[3]
Nitrate fertilisers[4] and pesticides[5] poison the land
To protect the grain that the tortured birds eat
Polluting fuels transport products across continents[6]

The cost of cheap food is not just borne by us
But by future generations
By different parts of the earth decaying under the glare of
Homogenised cuisine, monoculture
And the vulture of vested interests


The flesh lacks the nutrition of their organic free-range friends[7]
Compounds the ills of human health
The suffering of imprisoned animals
Their life force sapped
Their instincts cauterised
Before we consume the corrupted carcass

And what about the true cost for all that I lost?

The violation of our right to health
The right to cultural identity which biodiversity
And traditional farming practices embody
The right to work which small famers have foregone
Human trafficking for forced labour in food processing plants[8]

If we want these rights and a sustainable planet
We are expected to pay for them
For the investment in organic farms[9], the freedom-food life
Rotated crops, recycled nutrients, soil fertility
A rich wildlife inviting a myriad of dancing birds
Local markets, local jobs, fewer sales

But why are consumers paying
Animals paying
Small organic farmers paying
For companies which harm to make profits?[10]

And what about the true solution for all this pollution?

We can make consumer choices
Ask that the polluter pays at source[11]
Demand policies which support best practise
Instead of governments equating profitable success with violating rights[12]:
The hampered, tampered-with rights of humans, animals and the ecosystem

Most of all we can recognise
There is no such thing as cheap food

Someone, something, somewhere pays.


[1] Compassion In World Farming, Welfare Issues For Meat Chickens www.Ciwf.Org.Uk/Farm_Animals/Poultry/Meat_Chickens/Welfare_Issues.Aspx

[2] Sustainable Food Trust, True Cost Accounting in Food and Farming

[3] Alliance To Save Our Antibiotics, Case Study Of A Health Crisis: How Human Health Is Under Threat From Over-Use Of Antibiotics In Intensive Livestock Farming and Pew Campaign On Human Health And Industrial Farming Http://Www.Pewhealth.Org/Projects/Pew-Campaign-On-Human-Health-And-Industrial-Farming-85899367226

[4] Fao (Food And Agriculture Organization Of The United Nations), Control Of Water Pollution From Agriculture www.Fao.Org/Docrep/W2598e/W2598e00.Htm

[5] WWF Farming: Pollution http://Wwf.Panda.Org/What_We_Do/Footprint/Agriculture/Impacts/Pollution/

[6] Sustain, The Food Miles Report – The Dangers Of Long-Distance Food Transport www.Sustainweb.Org/Publications/?Id=191

[7] Compassion In World Farming, Higher Welfare Animals Produce More Nutritious Foods

[8] Polaris Project, Factories/Manufacturing

[9] Soil Association, Organic Farming

[10] Friends of the Earth, Factory Farming’s Hidden Impacts

[11] The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), Making the Polluter Pay, Jonathan Adler

[12] Scientific American, For a Healthier Country, Overhaul Farm Subsidies and Agricultural Subsidies and Environmental Change, John Lingard


Liberty & Humanity

Related articles:

Read other poems about indigenous rights and the sexual exploitation of children.

A Child With No Childhood, by Poppy Harrop age 6

A Child With No Childhood, by Poppy Harrop age 6