"When we feed the soil with artificials, it creates artificial plants, which make artificial animals, which make artificial people, and they're all kept alive by artificial medicine."
Sir Albert Howard, the godfather of Modern Scientific Aerobic Composting, "An Agricultural Testament", 1943
By the 1960's, the world was rapidly changing. It was becoming inventive, modern, and the population had grown immensely. These people needed feeding, so as part of the western world's growth came pasture improvement programs - the success of the rapidly expanding global meat, crop and dairy industries absolutely depended on it.
The name of the game became Profit through intensive farming, and the methods used to achieve this new, rich, fertile world meant introducing soil improvers - fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.
For the meat and dairy industries, the primary focus was on changing the soil fertility to increase the carbohydrate content in pastures to maximise production; fatter animals for meat, increased milk production per cow, and thus more profitability. How was this done? Chemicals.
For the crop industry, the emphasis was on improving yield and efficiency by making the crops resistant to bugs, and killing the surrounding weeds to clear the way for improved crop production. How was this done? Chemicals. This was modern-day progress, and it was the direction we were all heading in; every-thing was advancing and changing for the so-called better.
The wheat that we know today is very much part of this story, and it affects our horses as well because almost every shiny feedbag in our feed merchants today includes wheat, or a wheat by-product (wheatfeed) as an ingredient. Thing is, the wheat of today is something entirely different to what it was 40/50 years ago, when our horses could happily - or should I say comfortably - eat a grain feed. Cut to today, and they can't, and here's why.
What went wrong with our wheat? The beginning of today's disease-culture
Back to that 60's population explosion and the pasture improvement programmes, and specifically the Wheat Project, to increase the wheat yield per acre. First up, scientists took a look at the standard wheat crop to see what they could do to 'improve' it, and so began a wheat-breeding programme by pollinating it with various wild grasses to extract certain genetic characteristics - the first genetic modification (GM), as it were. So far so good, you'd think. But then along came a lovely word - mutagenesis.
The newly created genetically 'modified' wheat-cross plant was then subjected to a further process called mutagenesis, which is the "purposeful induction of mutations", performed using chemicals, radiation and gamma rays. Thing is, the scientists couldn’t control the mutations they got – they couldn't order up a specific mutation for better pest resistance or a reduced height - they got what they got.
Hundreds of experimental mutations were applied and if they weren’t fatal to the plant, this was a bonus. The final result? A completely mutated, unrecognisable wheat form from its former self. Whether it was safe to eat was another matter. Scientists certainly considered so at the time, but let's not forget the delicate fact that everyone involved was on the payroll of BigFood, so of course it got the green light for Go. We had to wait for history to reveal that result, and sadly the answer to that one soon showed itself.
The wheat that we’d formerly known for centuries, the 4ft-tall traditional spelt plant that humans and livestock had survived perfectly well on for centuries, became an 18”, short, thick, stocky, semi-dwarf strain, as it was called. Its change in appearance was accompanied by multiple changes in its genetics, its biochemistry, and in particular its gluten proteins. And, when products with this high-yield semi-dwarf wheat arrived on the supermarket shelves, the western world saw a dramatic increase in not only calorie intake, diabetes Type II and obesity, but also an explosion of multiple autoimmune diseases.
I can still remember the day, back in the late 60's, when mum took me and my brother to this new, ultra-modern - and huge, the likes never seen before - shop on Dorking high street. It was called Waitrose, and it was described as a 'super' market, where mum could buy everything under one roof instead of dragging us kids up and down the High Street into lots of different shops.
Overnight, everything seemed to change in our kitchen. She started cooking up unusual new meals out of boxes made from dried powders – a frequent one was Vesta Chicken Curry, followed by powdered Angel Delight blancmange. She also made spagbol from frozen (another weird invention), ready-made beef-burgers by melting them first then chopping them up in the pan. This was the Modern New World entering our home, although I doubt many of us eat Vesta curries these days - do they even still exist?
Cut to today, and the wheat we’re now eating is not the wheat of our ancestors or grandparents. It's super-high in gluten, as well as a much higher starch content; for example, take 2-tablespoons- yes, that's 2-tablespoons - of refined white sugar, a huge amount which we know is baaaad, yet it raises blood sugar levels less than 2 slices of manufactured, processed, supermarket wholewheat bread. Astonishing.
But worse, what we also know is that the glutens in today’s wheat are highly inflammatory and not what our gut system is adapted to eat, which means it disrupts the gut lining by way of microscopic pathogenic intestinal permability, aka Leaky Gut Syndrome, and this affects not only humans but our horses too.
This is not a fad; it’s a phenomena, that’s been created as a result of the increased use of man-made processed foods, antibiotics, chronic stresses and environmental toxins, all colluding to drive the disruptions in the gut function further, which allow the glutens to break through the gut membrane and create this systemic inflammation that's become all too common these days.
All the health and nutrition models I've researched have been human studies so I can only quote from these, but it completely replicates what happens in our horses' gut systems, so here goes. Every time the human gut is exposed to wheat, it tears the inside lining of the gut every time. The good news is that the body is permanently on a healing mission, so if we have toast for breakfast, the gut lining will heal; a sandwich for lunch, it'll heal; a chunk of baguette to accompany supper; it heals.
The not-so-good news is that the gut lining will eventually lose its tolerance to heal and this is when the problems start. Those tears become inflamed and finally open up, causing the microscopic pathogenic intestinal permability, aka Leaky Gut, where gluten and other toxins leak through the intestines into the bloodstream. Specifically - refined grains, refined sugar which feeds candida and yeast in the body, and genetically modified organisms wired with pesticides and viruses which kill off the beneficial microbes in the gut. And I haven’t even mentioned hydrogenated oils and artificial sweeteners ...
Autoimmune disease starts right here. The immune system starts an immune response to these toxins in the bloodstream, and unless corrected, so it begins. We're talking joints becoming affected (rheumatoid arthritis), thyroid health (Hashimotos, aka chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, often leading to hypothyroidism), the colon (Crones disease), fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) – all caused by leaky gut, caused by certain foods.
If a human is suffering an inflammatory or chronic condition, i.e. autoimmunity, digestive disorders, depression, neurological issues and so on, gluten should be at the top of list to eliminate, as many of these are being driven by gluten. By removing gluten we can see the impact it has on health, and I speak from personal experience - see my Blog Post, The Metabolic Horse - and Me. Eliminating carbs, including gluten, completely eliminated my belly-bloat, re-energised me and cleared my brain fog, as well as unintentionally shifting half-a stone to boot and acquiring a waist for the first time in my entire 6-decades of life.
Here's a great story - any tennis fans out there? Novak Djokovic is a great example of an athlete who accelerated his career thanks to a nutritionist who spotted his autoimmune syndrome back in 2010. Djokovic had lost yet another Grand Slam, the Australian Open, to Tsonga. He was exhausted, wrung out, and couldn't understand why he kept losing. Yet by removing inflammatory dairy, gluten and sugar from his diet, we've since seen Djokovic in the last 8-years go from repeatedly losing Grand Slams to the World No. 1 and pretty much unbeatable, including winning Wimbledon just 12-months after changing his diet.
2011, Wimbledon Final. Djokovic v Nadal, Andrew Castle commentating.
"It’s championship point (tense hush) … And there’s our new champion at Wimbledon! (Cue huge applause) ... Novak Djokovic. He’s the new World No. 1 in every sense, and he deserves it. After the year that he’s had, he came in here as the People’s Favourite, and now he’s proved it.”
To quote Djokovic from a lovely interview I watched, “I just needed that information about change of the diet and nutrition, and with that change in 2010 and the years after that I felt so stronger as a tennis player on the court, I recovered better, I had endurance, I had more clarity of mind, all of a sudden the horizons of life opened up to me, the circumstances in life I’ve had after that were phenomenal.”
And, as some say, the horse is the greatest athlete in the world. Imagine the athlete we'd get if we got this mutated, inflammatory wheat out of their diets as well.
The rest of the story
We also now live in an industrial toxic world; there’s chlorine and fluoride in our water; irradiation, pasteurisation and homogenisation of our foods; crop spraying, chemtrails and electro-smog (think cell phones and their towers which emit radiation). Our air and water is contaminated and our soil is sick - you only have to look at the trees to see they’re gradually dying. The list goes on. I repeat this a lot on this website, so apologies in advance.
For those of us living next to crop growing, the breeze carries the chemical sprays into the air which we all breathe, and for our horses it lands on their grazing pasture which they ingest. For those of us on ex-dairy farms now diversified into providing horse-livery, it’s this same improved, chemically fertilised pasture that many of our horses now graze on. For those of us buying manufactured horse feeds with numerous ingredients, and unless stated 'Organic', you can guarantee that your horses are eating intensively farmed crops, including weird wheat, which have been chemically treated, and very likely GMO mass-produced. There’s no question - every-thing truly has changed.
Never in human history have we ingested chemical herbicides, fungicides or pesticides before, yet today we have plants that not only absorb them but can withstand them - they're designed to - so we’re all now consuming large amounts of these toxic 'ides' in our feeds.
GMO crops are now so very widespread that they're a household name. These are crops which have been engineered to withstand the 'ides', i.e. Monsanto's RoundUp and it’s active ingredient Glyphosate; spray it on a field and a GMO crop will withstand it, while the other plants around it die. It's done not for the betterment of the resulting foodstuff, but to make harvesting easier. And it's causing significant health issues to the world.
Glyphosate was recently classified by the WHO as a probable carcinogen, with a group of 94 scientists publishing a study endorsing that it’s actually not ‘more than likely’ a probable carcinogen – it is a carcinogen. So, we’re spraying our crops with a carcinogenic weedkiller, and Monsanto are making $-Billions from it.
It’s now being found in umbilical-cord blood; it’s in every human cell, in our environment, our water and our food. And our horses are consuming it as well, not just in their feedbowl but if they live near agri-crops, it's in the air they breathe and on the pasture they graze on.
I'm really not wishing to scare-monger - this is just our modern day and it's just the way the world is - it's now 'normal'. However, this chapter is about our horses' feedstuff, and the good news is that there's plenty we can do about it. However, bear with me because to know what we need to do, we need to understand what's actually going on so we know what we need to fix.
To put it in perspective, four major factors have played key roles in declining food nutrient values, with significant drops in crucial minerals like phosphorus, selenium, copper, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron:
- The start of mechanized farming in 1925
- The introduction of ammonium nitrate fertilizer in 1946
- The use of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides starting prior to 1960
- The introduction of genetically engineered plants and glyphosate in the 1990s
And, as you can see on the chart below (courtesy of Dr.Mercola), these minerals were plentiful in food before the advance of mechanized farming. By the time genetically engineered crops were introduced along with the herbicide glyphosate in the 1990s, levels had dropped to alarming levels.
So how have these four factors so severely impacted the mineral content of food?
- Mechanized farming methods, intended to make life easier for farmers, damage soil quality.
- The quality of food plants can only be as good as the soil in which it is grown. Why? Healthy soils contain an immense diversity of microorganisms. These organisms are responsible for the plant’s uptake of nutrients, which in turn provide you with the nutrients you need. No microrganisms? No nutrient-rich plants.
- The changes in farming in the 1920s, intended to make production easier and more cost efficient for farmers, initiated this nose dive on food nutrient values, thanks to its lethal effects on soil microorganisms. Mechanized farming – or the use of advanced machinery – decimate these nutrient-creating microorganisms in the soil. And since the soil microorganisms can’t replenish themselves in time for the next year’s growth, the minerals became depleted at a record rate and aren’t available for the plants’ uptake.
- Conventional farming methods also rely heavily on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that can kill off the microbial inhabitants of the soil. While the introduction of ammonium nitrate fertilizer stimulated greater yields in cops, it changed the chemistry of the soil in negative ways, leading to decreased numbers of soil microorganisms and increased pests.
- Then along came the toxic pesticides in the 1950s... They effectively killed the pests and fungi, but they too had a lethal effect on the soil microorganisms. In effect, this crippled nature’s ability to provide the minerals needed for proper plant growth and nutrition.
- By the time genetically engineered (GE) seeds and glyphosate were introduced, any minerals left were hyper-chelated and unavailable to plants except for the patented GE plants.
Is it any wonder we have little to no significant nutrients left in our food that isn’t grown through regenerative farming methods that specifically enhance soil quality? Sadly, these days, if our crops aren't grown by organic and regenerative or Biodynamic® farming methods, it simply won't contain all the vitamins and especially minerals our horses - and us humans - require for optimum nutrition.
Conventional farming methods don't focus on the nutrient quality of food. It's about maximising efficiency and profit via chemically induced growth rate, pest resistance, and the physical traits of produce, like size.
Sadly, it’s all about faster, bigger, and cheaper, and it's affecting our horses' health with every bite. And it’s not only minerals that may be lacking. A landmark study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (Dec.2004) looked at U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits:
- In the UK from 1940 to 1990, copper levels in vegetables dropped by 76 percent and calcium fell by 46 percent.
- They discovered reliable declines in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the 50-year period.
- Other similar studies have found significant declines in vitamin A and C, calcium, iron, and potassium.
- According to an Australian soil scientist, conventionally grown apples have lost 80% of their vitamin C, so that famous saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is pretty pointless unless that apple is grown in healthy organic soil.
All of these researchers attributed these vitamin losses to the same culprits responsible for the massive decline in minerals: Modern agriculture and its focus on growth, pest resistance, climate adaptability and physical traits of fruits and vegetables like size, instead of soil quality and food nutrients.
I'll end this page with a quote from a bit of a hero of mine, Guy Singh-Watson, who founded and runs Riverford, the organic veg-box company (yes I'm a customer, to fulfill our out-of-season home veg needs that my own veg plot isn't providing):
"Technology and globalism have transformed many industries, often at huge human cost. How we farm has environmental, social, landscape and health impacts that provide strong arguments against sacrificing it on the altar of global, neo-liberal economics.
Big doesn’t have to be bad, but in farming, it usually is: for wildlife, for food quality, for animal welfare, and for the communities which lose the infrastructure of integrated small family businesses. Big cannot cope with the intricacies of mixed farms and varied landscapes, so it uses all its power to make things the same: in neighbouring fields, then on neighbouring farms; in Cornwall and Cambridgeshire, then in Cambridgeshire, Kansas.
The same varieties sold by the same three global seed companies. The same commodities sold to the same four global grain traders, and retailed through the same few supermarkets under the same global brands."
I think I've made my point, so let's pull all this together. Put simply, we need nutrient-rich food to build a healthy body and mind. If the soil quality isn’t there, we're simply not going to get high-quality food with the nutrients we need, whether human or horse.
So, with this in mind, let's get back to what we feed our horses and the next chapter; my personal take on Today's Feed Industry.