Over the last three years, Europe has seen crop failures due to drought and invasive species. Farmers can’t beat the price of grain from Ukraine, which is in desperate straits. One hectare of arable land disappears every second in the world, and soil is a non-renewable resource. (La disparition des terres agricoles: https://www.planetoscope.com/sols/1175-disparition-de-surfaces-agricoles-dans-le-monde.html) By the end of summer 2023, in less than nine months, organic farming in France had fallen by 20%; 56% in three years. The number of organic farmers switching back to conventional farming has increased by 35% in the space of a year (Ces fermes qui abandonnent le bio au prix d’un périlleux retour en arrière: https://www.lesechos.fr/industrie-services/conso-distribution/ces-fermes-qui-abandonnent-le-bio-au-prix-dun-perilleux-retour-en-arriere-1917474).
Yet 82% of organic farming is industrial, i.e. monoculture or intensive livestock farming in which chemical inputs have simply been replaced by inputs authorized for organic farming. This is already a major advance on conventional farming, as it uses no harmful chemicals. The animals in these farms get just as sick as in conventional farming, but the farmer has fewer ways of curing them. The plants in the fields are just as vulnerable to pests, but the farmer has fewer options for treating them. The result is extremely vulnerable produce, and farmers have to put on sterile laboratory garments to enter their barns or granaries. Because if a bacterium gets in, they can lose a lot of livestock. Because of their extreme fragility, these farms can even contribute to the proliferation of pests. In fact, organic farms are less well equipped than conventional ones to cope with the consequences of climate change, the arrival of pests and the proliferation of animal diseases. As a result, prices are skyrocketing, making them uncompetitive. (C’est quoi le bio industriel?: https://naturellement-en-famille.fr/component/k2/87-alimentation-savoir-faire-5/reconnaitre-le-bio-industriel?Itemid=9999999999).
When Albert Howard formalized what modern organic farming should be, he wanted plants and animals to be more resistant. The farm he describes is a regenerative farm with a minimum of inputs and a minimum of waste. Agriculture is circular. Animals and plants share the same space. Animals enrich the soil. Pests are information to be used. Don’t go against nature. Animal and plant varieties are specific to the farm and different from the farm nearby. Animals and plants do not conform to standards. There can be no mass production of a single variety.
Regenerative organic farming is much more labor-intensive and cannot provide uniform products all year round. 92% of French people shop in supermarkets, where there are only formatted products and farms capable of supplying large volumes of a given product. Regenerative farms don’t have access to supermarket procurement facilities.
Consumers need to understand that vegetables and meat can vary in appearance, taste and seasonality. The government must stand by the farmers and not by the manufacturers. Today, the state imposes health regulations, inspections with armed police and blackmails farmers who refuse conventional farming. Tomorrow, the state must trust the farmers. Health scandals happen in factories, not on farms. Labour inspectors should be rehired and go into factories.
Farmers and farm workers must be able to live with dignity from the sale of their produce. To achieve this, we need to reinstate the public granaries that were scrapped in the 1970s and redirect farm subsidy money to small farms. Today, when a subsidy is used to supplement a farmer’s income, it simply enables the middlemen to buy at a lower price and make a higher margin. In a public granary, this money guarantees that farmers will be able to sell their produce at a price that allows them to live decently. In this age of globalisation, we need to add a new measure: price controls. In the European Union, it should be forbidden to sell an agricultural product for less than the public granary price to avoid unfair competition. The same applies to medicines, where there are minimum prices. Food is not a consumer good like any other. Public granaries should sell directly to supermarkets. Manufacturers’ margins must be eliminated so that prices do not rise.
The climate has been extreme in recent years. We need strong plants and animals. Switching to regenerative organic farming means accepting real tastes. All the nutrients and micro-organisms are present. It’s better for your health, better tasting and better for the planet. It’s cheaper for the community, because there are no illnesses to pay for. It’s better for farmers because they are less alone and can come up with more ideas for adapting their work to their soil.
The industrialisation of conventional farming is leading to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The industrialisation of agriculture and livestock farming is impoverishing the soil and ultimately creating deserts where nothing grows. We need to preserve nature to preserve our source of food.
The omnivore’s dilemna: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Omnivore%27s_Dilemma
How to fight desertification and reverse climate change: https://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_fight_desertification_and_reverse_climate_change
Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act of 1973: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agriculture_and_Consumer_Protection_Act_of_1973