Natural and Cultural Biodiversity, Quality of Food and Agriculture
It is becoming increasingly hard in most of Western Europe and North America, to buy any food from farms situated close to where one lives – i.e. ‘local food.’
In England, where over 80% of food is now purchased in Supermarkets, the contents of a typical supermarket trolley of food has traveled more than 3,000 kilometers before it reaches the display shelves. This contributes greatly to planetary pollution and depleted food quality.
The Supermarkets buy from wherever food is cheapest on the World market. They pay farmers the absolute minimum and will only buy in large volumes – and the produce must conform to their precise standards. Thousands of farmers cannot comply with this regime – and go out of business
These standards are not based on nutritional value, flavor or freshness – but almost entirely on visual assessment – the way the product looks. This leads to a strange phenomena: the packaging becomes more important than the produce!
In some cases this is literally the situation. For example, many breakfast cereals are so refined that there is more nutrition in the cardboard packet than what is in it. The vast majority of food packaging is thrown into the garbage can and is not recycled. This is leading to a crisis situation in the UK, where every year millions of tons of paper and plastic food packaging is dumped in special pits in the countryside.
It is now estimated that in four years there will be no more space available for this garbage.
I tell this story because it is symbolic of the way we live in post industrial Western societies.
It is a throw-away- convenience lead- life style, and it is completely unsustainable.
It is a system that treats finite resources as though they were infinite – and chooses to ignore the cost to environmental, animal and human health for the sake of something we call ‘cheap food’.
But in reality, industrial agriculture produces cheap food at an enormous cost. A few years ago I helped to initiate a research project in the UK entitled ‘Counting the Cost of Industrial Agriculture.’
It revealed, amongst other things, that more than 1 billion pounds is spent each year removing pesticide residues from UK drinking water supplies – and a further 5 hundred million pounds to remove nitrate fertilizers.
The British public are not aware of these costs, because rather than being put on the price of food – they are paid for out of our taxes. They are what is known as ‘hidden costs’.
The same applies to the funding of the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union. The production subsidies that promote large scale industrial farming practices are paid for by us.
Apart from the small amount assigned to ecological solutions, we are subsidizing farmers to pour millions of liters of artificial fertilizers and pesticides on the land every year. To fatten tens of thousands of pigs and chickens in totally inhumane factory conditions. We are also paying for 30% of EU food which is coming from this intensive system, to be dumped or destroyed , because it is in excess of the market needs.
We are paying for the thousands of bureaucrats who devise the rules and regulations of the Common Agricultural Policy, to control our farmers every move and to fine them when they don’t comply.
We are, in effect, paying for the destruction of our food and farming communities – and it’s time we woke up!
Poland has too much to loose to take this sitting down. Much of the beauty and biodiversity of the Polish countryside is the result of maintaining a tradition of small family farms and village based agricultural communities. They form the foundation for a stable future.
There is a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to be found on these farms which has been passed down from generation to generation. It is the mark of the true peasant farmer. There is also great pride and skill in the management of the land, unmatched by the practitioners of industrial farming.
I have been -and remain- deeply impressed by these qualities. As I have been with the quality of the food which comes from these farms. It far exceeds anything one can buy in a supermarket.
But all of this is now under increasing threat from the Globalised food industry, promoted by the World Trade Organisation and supported by the Smith Fields, Monsantos and Tescos of this world.
The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU is simply moving too slowly to protect the majority of Poland’s one and a half million environmentally friendly small farms.
Nor is the National Government – in common with nearly all other EU countries- demonstrating any interest in their fate.
The initiative thus rests with a ‘new resistance’ being engendered at the grass roots level.
This will have to include a much closer liason between producers and consumers.
The creation of new fresh food markets that are built around local, high quality foods
And a spirit of cooperation between farmers.
There are resurgent signs of interest in ‘real food’ direct from the farm, all over Europe. Small shops, restaurants and schools are increasingly looking for alternatives to the factory farm produce which dominates the market to-day. There are many more creative initiatives that can be developed.
Small, mixed farms, are far more flexible and adaptable than large monocultures. There chances of survival are therefore much better. But they must be welcomed and supported by the communities who live amongst them.
In the end, the way we treat our land, raise our food and produce our energy, forms a barometer of the state of health of our society.
So long as we place the highest value on quantity rather than quality, we will continue to deplete and to pollute the most precious resources of our planet.
If we cannot work WITH nature rather than AGAINST nature, then she will ultimately rebel against our treatment – and that time is close at hand.
Sir Julian Rose, ICPPC, June 2004
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