29 MARCH 2001
It must seem strange to some of you that I – an Englishman – am standing here calling for your support to ensure the survival of the traditional family farms of Poland. I think I owe you an explanation:
I grew up in a beautiful rural area of Southern England, surrounded by a diverse patchwork of small fields and woodlands. Wildflowers and birds seemed interwoven into this environment. Farmers, shepherds, hedgelayers, and game keepers moved to and fro in their daily agricultural rituals – and in the local village, the butcher, baker, fruiterer and publican were all stops on the daily shopping round. Many had stories to tell and knowledge to share. Children walked to school, chattering as they went, and after school they played in the long grass and the haystacks on the farms. Most farms were mixed, with around 10 cows or beef cattle, a few pigs and some hens. Life moved rather slowly, with time to appreciate the rich diversity of Nature.
Now wipe this vision from your mind. We are in the same countryside in 2001. The fields and woods are empty of people. One sees no wildflowers, one hears few birds. Children are taken to school by car. They play at home with computer games and TVs. The village butcher has gone, the baker also and the fruiterer. They have been replaced by the out of town supermarket, a vast edifice, 15 minutes drive away. The food it carries is unrecognisable in terms of its origins. It has no identity. Much comes from abroad. Supermarkets cannot supply local food. Those who work in them cannot tell you anything about the products they sell. It is an anonymous, homogenised world.
The village has died. The land has died and now the animals are dying – and so are the farmers. This is the country that led the drive for ‘efficient’, high input – high output farming. Developed the ‘factory farm’ for pigs and poultry, promoted the widespread application of artificial fertilisers and pesticides and advocated technological fixes as being superior to human hands. It is the country that, more than any other (apart from the U.S.) advocates GMOs and intensive farming – so that “U.K. farming can compete in the global marketplace” and continue to provide “cheap food”. However, now even the big English farms are going bankrupt. Income has fallen by 70% over the past three years – and only organic farming is looking profitable.
The current policy position is dead on its feet. It is finished. The CAP / EU position that subsidises the production of agrichemical food is equally dead. The EU has spent the last 35 years promoting a regime that has forced 1.2 million British farmers off the land, while simultaneously destroying 90% of our species rich hay meadows and 90,000 kilometres of hedges. It has also severely undermined the regional peasant foods that form the foundation of the European culinary tradition. This policy is a failure – as even Franz Fischler now recognises. Which is why he is telling EU candidate countries (such as Poland) to develop their ‘green agenda’ and state their case for being strong candidates for Rural Development and Agrienvironment funds that will form the main funding for rural areas in 4 to 5 years time. The future is Green. Even the Minister of Agriculture for Italy knows this. He has ruled that schools throughout Italy must provide organic meals for children. Germany looks like following on. Austria, Sweden and Denmark are already well advanced in their development of alternative energy and organic food production.
I am in Poland to urge you not to repeat the rural devastation that I have witnessed in England. I am in Poland to urge you to fight for the future of your beautiful, diverse, small scale farms and your excellent farmhouse foods. I am in Poland to point you towards new markets and new hope for these foods and the 2 million farmers who produce them. The market for ecological food is growing at 25% per annum throughout the EU. I am also here to warn against adopting the EU’s restructuring programmes that have already killed off the best traditions of European food and farming. To say No to the intensive farming ethic that destroyed my country in the name of “cheap” food production. There is no such thing as cheap food.
I hope it is not too late for the Polish parliament, in its wisdom, to understand and act on this fact. Even as I speak a decision is about to be taken on whether to lower Polish animal welfare standards to accommodate a foreign factory farming enterprise – proposed by transnational U.S. giants – which would condemn thousands of pigs to a life of purgatory for the sake of cheap meat production. No doubt the package which these transnationals are trying to establish in Poland will also link up to the production of GM soya, forming a large component of the pig feed.
I am in Poland to help you build a fresh vision of the future – growing directly from the soil of your longstanding rural traditions; to win the battle against predatory transnational corporations and globalised food. I call upon you all to sign up to Charter 21 and help create an unstoppable momentum of support for the long term protection and promotion of the Polish countryside.