EXTINCTION OR REGENERATION: SOWING THE SEEDS OF HOPE AND ACTION

Philip Lymbery
6 min readMay 22, 2023

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The well-known actor Brian Cox, delivers a personal message to the delegates at the recent Extinction or Regeneration Conference at the QE2, London Credit: CIWF/Nacho Rivera

Three years in the planning, the Extinction or Regeneration Conference 2023 hosted by Compassion in World Farming and our key partner, IPES-Food, will live long in the memory and sowed seeds for hope and future action.

Two days of conference, 5 plenary sessions, 6 parallel sessions and 1 closing panel. 63 speakers and chairs (32 female, 31 male) from 20 countries. 740 delegates plus 370,000 people watching the live stream including thousands on official Chinese Government websites. 25 international journalists attended and one news story ran in over 250 publications.

Philip opens the Extinction or Regeneration Conference 2023 | Credit: Nacho Rivera

To date, there have been over 550 mentions of the conference in the press and a potential reach of 1.98 billion.

The hashtag #Extinction2023 was trending on Twitter in the UK, with nearly 20 million potential opportunities to see it.

In total, we had representation from 41 countries and have had some truly amazing feedback.

To gain an audio snapshot of the views, thoughts and sheer energy of the Extinction or Regeneration Conference, please listen to this short podcast.

Conference Delegates | Credit: Nacho Rivera

Game-changing debate

Extinction or Regeneration was about finding urgent solutions to fix the broken food system and ensure the future well-being of animals, people and the planet.

Over the two days, we brought together world-renowned academics, food and financial experts, doctors, animal welfare specialists, ecologists, activists and farmers from around the world, to discuss topics ranging from soil health and regenerative agriculture to the role of governments, business and investment in the food system.

I was honoured to work with IPES-Food Co-Chair and UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier De Schutter, to host this unique event, alongside other partners from diverse sectors.

Whilst it would be impossible to cover the huge breadth and quality of insights afforded by such a talented range of global speakers, here I offer a flavour of the extraordinary contributions over the course of an uplifting two days in London.

The conference was opened by primatologist Dr Jane Goodall DBE, who gave a superb and stirring opening speech calling for an end to factory farming amid the ‘extreme’ animal cruelty, ‘Unless we wake up and act now to reduce this calamitous overconsumption, it will simply be too late’.

Oliver De Schutter followed, explaining the inequalities of our food system, including hunger and poverty for the most disadvantaged, whilst at the same time seeing record profits for a handful of powerful corporations.

Speakers answering many inspiring questions during the Q&A session | Credit: Nacho Rivera

Extinction by Design

Professor Tim Benton asked, ‘Did you know over 60% of grain is used for animal feed?’ He highlighted how this offered enormous potential for transformative change. That if we stopped factory farming there would be so much more we could do with the land. Further how we currently only produce a third of the fruit and vegetables we need, making the recent decision to scrap the horticulture strategy even more depressing.

Stefanos Fotiou from the UN FAO and Director of the UN Food Systems Hub confirmed that food relates to so many wider issues and how changing the way we produce it, can bring about a sustainable future.

John Webster, Professor Emeritus, University of Bristol, discussed the importance of recognising animals as sentient beings, who can feel pain and joy and how they must be treated with respect.

Dr Vandana Shiva talking to the media midst the delegates during a break at the Conference | Credit: Nacho Rivera

Dr Vandana Shiva, activist, academic and campaigner, spoke eloquently of how ‘this extinction we are living through is an extinction by design.’ Referring to the chemical pesticides and artificial fertilisers that are spread so liberally on intensively managed farmland, she said, ‘Look at the arsenal that has been created to drive species to extinction.’

The Soil

Rattan Lal, Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science, The Ohio State University, told us all that ‘soil is like a bank account, you can’t take out more than you put in. The health of soil goes down, the health of everything else goes down with it’ and that ‘Waste is a crime against nature’. He was unequivocal when he spoke about famines, saying they were “man-made” and “unthinkable, morally toxic.”

Seth Watkins, Pinhook Farms farmer gave an emotionally charged presentation and with humility and passion, suggested that there is ‘no sustainability without diversity’ and that we need to embrace human innovation to feed the world. That we need to make farms smaller and more diverse, giving more value to the natural world. How regenerative farming can ensure everyone receives the food they need while protecting the planet and that farmers ‘can be profitable, but enough is as good as a feast’.

Wise words echoed by Susan Chomba, Director of Vital Landscapes, World Resources Institute who made an equally strong case for regenerative farming based on her experience in Africa: ‘The way we grow our crops has a huge impact on soil health’.

Banks Fund Broken Food Systems

Jennifer Clapp, Professor, School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, University of Waterloo, reminded all delegates that we also need to think outside the food system. That we need better laws and stronger regulation on financial markets and rules to ensure asset managers don’t dominate the food system.

Compassion’s own Chief Policy Advisor, Peter Stevenson, spoke out about how we must lobby banks to only fund high animal welfare ‘Every year, the big banks pour out millions into funding factory farming’. Banks have a significant role to play in reducing the intensive farming system and promoting and encouraging regenerative, nature-friendly farming.

UK food strategist and co-founder of restaurant chain, Leon, Henry Dimbleby, informed us that ‘the animals we breed to eat weigh twice as much as all the people on the planet, and 20 times the wild animals’. He called for legislation to raise standards and help consumers make informed choices. He advised that in 150 years he didn’t believe we’d be eating killing animals for food.

He was followed on stage by James Bailey, Executive Director of Waitrose on the need for disruptive thinking ‘If customers don’t yet understand what’s happening, they can’t make the change’. He sought collaboration to help shake up the food system.

Dame Joanna Lumley talking to Philip on her arrival at the conference

Delegates were wowed by a motivating speech from Compassion’s own patron, Dame Joanna Lumley, on the importance of ending factory farming.

Summary

Extinction or Regeneration was a meeting of extraordinary minds. More from the speeches delivered at this superlative event will be posted online shortly.

I would like to thank everyone who came, and to all those who support us, for being part of this beautiful movement that is saving the future for animals, people and the planet.

I close with the wonderful words of Dr Vandana Shiva ‘“Compassion feeds the world; compassion heals the world; compassion sows the seeds of hope, compassion is not a means to an end but the purpose of life.’

Thank you.

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