Meat, morality, and the vortex of lies

An early morning rant from Colin Tudge

We are invited to be cheered by aspects of the Agriculture Bill for it seems that at last a Secretary of State is finally taking notice of what people who are truly interested in food and farming have been saying for the past half century or so — and to get governments of the usual kind even to listen to people who actually know things and give a damn is itself a triumph. Or so we seem to accept.

But it isn’t really. Agricultural strategy in Britain and increasingly in the world at large is based on a lie, or a series of lies, each one following from the one before; and we are all of us invited or obliged to spend our lives living up to those lies. But if we are serious about the present and future plight of the world, we really can’t afford to base our lives on lies.
The great lie or at least misconception that underpins standard agricultural strategy is that what is sold in greatest amounts is what we truly want: that sales reflect something called demand; and that demand reflects some deep, perhaps even God-given predilection and predisposition; and – which is very strange morality! – that it is morally virtuous and a fundamental principle of democracy to strive always to satisfy these hypothetical predilections.

In particular, people are buying more and more meat and this is taken as irrefutable evidence that human beings have an innate, evolved or perhaps God-given penchant for animal flesh and indeed a need for it; and standard agricultural strategy is accordingly designed to produce more and more of it. In practice, industrial meat production, culminating in “CAFOs” (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations — an ugly name for an ugly concept), is an extension of the arable industry, and is intended expressly to dispose of arable surpluses. The modern arable industry in turn is an extension of the petro-chemical industry; and the modern economy is designed to maximize short-term profit which requires us to produce more and more stuff of whatever kind and to flog whatever it is as quickly and abundantly as possible. The petro-chemical industry is hugely profitable (nothing more so) and so it drives the whole global economy, and politics follows the economics however crass the economics may be, and agriculture is swept up in the rush like everything else.

To be sure, people do buy more meat as they get richer – and more booze, and more or less everything else that is tasty (who denies it?) and expensive (and also more clothes and cars and cocaine). Turnips on the other hand seem most unfashionable (it’s hard to get them). But the only thing we can legitimately infer from all these facts – that at any one period of history people buy some things and not others, and that different people buy different things, and that the same people buy different things at different times – is that our tastes, our preferences, in food and just about everything else, are very flexible. Indeed, apart from a few built-in antipathies to foods that make us say “yuk” (and are probably bad for us), our tastes seem almost infinitely flexible. Some people eat sea-urchins and it used to be smart to drink crème de menthe, and so on. What we choose to buy, at any one time, is determined by tradition and fashion (because the things that are perceived to be smart are the things that gain us kudos) and by what we can afford, and, above all, by what is available. Make a food available (but a little bit expensive so it looks prestigious!) and surround it with a good story of one kind or another (which is called salesmanship) and with a following wind and government approval (to remove legal and bureaucratic obstacles) you can sell whatever it may be, in vast quantities, including proverbial fridges to proverbial Eskimos.

That really does not mean that there is any innate “demand” for whatever it is that is commercially successful, or that commercial success reflects some innate, unsatisfied desire, rooted deep in our psyche and biology or instilled in us by divine decree. Scientists are supposed to think critically and they above all should realize that the facts do not justify that idea. But scientists in practice beneath their cleverness and apparent self-confidence tend to be simple souls, and those who take the commercial shilling seem all too ready to leave their critical faculties at the reception desk, and go along with whatever myth the company cares to spin. Not only do they go along with the idea that we need more and more cereal and soya to feed the animals that we are supposed to need, and don’t, they have invented a whole new technology – that of GMOs — to boost the yield of those crops even further, and a whole new mythology to go with it (which says that GMOs are necessary, and that high-tech is innately superior to tradition). After all, scientists have mortgages like everybody else.

So the myth has it that people “demand” more and more meat because of some deep need and unsatisfied desire and agricultural scientists of a certain kind are all too ready to provide the means that enable the myth to be fulfilled if that’s what their paymasters want. CAFOs are the smart thing not because they are “efficient” (as the myth has it; though life-cycle analysis shows them to be immensely profligate in ecological terms) but because they provide the means to add value to oil, which in its pristine state is not desirable at all, by turning it into cereal and soya with the aid of photosynthesis, and then into burgers and barbequed chicken wings, and peppering the world’s high streets with “outlets”.

In fact, of course, we could produce all the meat the world really needs, and – even more to the point – all that is needed to meet the requirements of the world’s greatest cuisines (which all use meat sparingly) — by agroecological means that are, as the bureaucratic cliché has it, truly sustainable: by grazing cattle and sheep on land that doesn’t lend itself to crops, and feeding pigs and poultry on leftovers and genuine surpluses.

But then, even if we really did have a huge and insatiable desire for meat, it does not follow that it is necessarily “good”, in a moral sense, to satisfy that desire. Indeed it is very strange to suppose that moral good means satisfying carnal want. Most moral philosophy that is worthy of the name, and particularly of the kind that lies at the heart of all bona fide religions, teaches restraint: that we should not expressly aim always or primarily to satisfy carnal desires. That we, and the world’s most powerful commercial companies – who in practice do more than anyone to determine how we live and indeed how we think – should make a prime virtue  of satisfying carnal desire, and that people in positions of influence do not seem to question this, shows how morally corrupt the world has become. Given that in this case the supposed carnal desire is itself a lie, we are caught in a double whammy. In fact we are caught in a giant tautology, a vortex. We invent a lie to justify greed and then make a virtue of living up to that lie and in the process kill the biosphere and leave a lot of people without enough food at all. It will take more than a government bill that seems marginally more sensible than the outpourings of the past few decades to put that right.

Colin Tudge October 29 2018

Natural Capital: a neoliberal response to species extinction

In this article, Ian Rappel attacks the thinking and ambition behind the drive to attach a monetary value to biodiversity and nature – that it “is being portrayed as a necessary means of translating the environmental message to legislators, business and the markets. This argument for nature ­financialisation—the processes by which banks and financiers have turned to environmental conservation as a new front for speculative investment, and the simultaneous rewriting of conservation to fit banking and financial ­concepts—has gained momentum and acceptance across environmental science and politics during the last decade as economic recession/depression and austerity have dominated global economic architectures.”

The global status of agroecology

Michel Pimbert (Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience) pulls no punches in this overview of agroecology as he traces its origins, its current popularity at governmental and intergovernmental levels, and its potential for truly transforming our ways of living.

Originally published in Economic & Political Weekly Vol. 53, Issue No. 41, 13 Oct, 2018, it is reproduced here with permission of the author and of the publisher.

Access to land for a new generation of farmers in Europe

This new report from the Access to Land group of EU farming organisations (funded by Erasmus) explores the difficulties and opportunities  for new farmers.

Here’s the introduction to the report:

European farmers are a greying population. More than half of European farmers will retire within 10 years, while only 7% are under the age of 35. Many senior farmers have no successors in their family, and have no identified successor outside of it. The question of who is going to be the next generation of European farmers is a very pressing one. Who will grow our food? Who will sustain rural economies and communities? Who will maintain open landscapes for everybody to enjoy?

There is also a major challenge in ensuring both the continuity and the necessary evolutions between the generations of farmers. How to avoid losing preciously developed soil quality and know-how held by the current generation of passionate farmers? And how to allow new farmers to develop more agroecological forms of farming?

Within the new generation of farmers, most new farmers are direct successors, also called “continuers”, i.e. young people taking over the family farm. But intra-family farm succession—which for centuries has been the dominant form of entry into farming in
Europe—is losing ground. Increasingly, the children of farmers opt for other careers, as many view farming as a profession requiring considerable working time and hard physical labour while earning little income and receiving little public recognition.

On the other hand, on the ground, a growing number of people are seeking to enter farming, without a family farm and sometimes even without prior experience with farming. These new farmers may be defined as “newcomers” to farming, or ex novo
new entrants. Many of them turn towards agroecological forms of farming and favour innovation—organic farming, short supply chains, community-supported agriculture, and on-farm food processing— which increase on-farm added value, while contributing to local
quality food, jobs and environmental protection. The exact number and potential of these newcomers is not well-known, as only a few countries have collected data and conducted studies about them.

It is also recognised that there is more of a continuum than a divide between continuers and newcomers. Many newcomers indeed have some connection with farming, through relatives, a rural background, on-farm experience, etc., while some continuers may
decide to continue farming but not take on the family farm, or to transform it radically (e.g. from a specialised farm to mixed farming, or from conventional to organic).

Our organisations are grassroots groups working to facilitate farm succession and entry of a new generation in a number of ways:
——training and advising young farmers and aspiring farmers,
——advising senior farmers and landowners to facilitate farm transmission,
——acquiring farms in order to make them available to new entrants, especially newcomers, under favourable terms,
——advocating for the preservation of existing farms and their transfer to a new generation,
——advocating for better support mechanisms for new entrants and progressive entry into farming.

Our vision is that of a Europe with multiple farms, farmers and local food systems, making European food and farming systems more resilient, creating jobs and activities in the countryside, providing safe, high-quality food, preserving the environment and
contributing to lively rural communities.

Our daily experience in advising and supporting new farmers, particularly newcomers, highlights the considerable hurdle of accessing land for farming. Access to land is now widely recognised as the number one obstacle to entering farming in Europe. Yet, the situation remains little-known and little-studied. Moreover, most public policies supporting new entrants, at the local, national and European level, are conceived for continuers and fail to address the specific needs and challenges of newcomers. And most agricultural policies give little consideration to land market regulations and specific mechanisms to facilitate access to land for new farmers.

This report aims to share our experience and analyses of the situation for new farmers and their access to land in our countries. It also presents a number of new farmers, to highlight their diverse backgrounds, difficulties and pathways into farming. All of these portraits also emphasise their enthusiasm, innovativeness and dedication to becoming a farmer. They also illustrate various ways in which they access land, often with the support of farmers’ organisations or various civil society movements. Based on these country studies and new farmers’ portraits, we then attempt to present an overview and characterise these novel ways to access land for farming. The report ends with an exploration of farm
incubators, which constitute one of the growing innovations to help new farmers (particularly newcomers) enter farming, including by providing start-up access to a plot of land.

Access to Land for Real Farming in the UK

This study, written by Robert Fraser (Real Farming Trust) explores the various financial / investment models and other related initiatives that could help with access to land for agroecological farming and growing. It reviews the current situation in the UK and the various initiatives being developed both here and in the rest of Europe and the USA, and comes up with some recommendations for supporting those seeking access to land in the UK.

The study looks at various models, including land trusts, a national ‘farmland investment fund’, bridging finance and the potential for attracting social investment into land and land-based projects, as well as other initiatives that support new entrants, but do not rely on the purchase of the land itself.
The key questions needing to be addressed can be summarised as follows:
– What lessons can we learn from other countries and initiatives?
– How can we funnel more investment into land for agroecological farming?
– Is there room for a new farmland trust or fund?
– How can the existing organisations work more closely together?
– Can land be secured for agroecological farming, without having to buy it?
– What else needs to change to help with access to land (e.g. policy, advice, etc.)?

The study sets out to:
– understand the current situation in the UK from the perspective of existing organisations
– learn from other countries, finding key exemplars,
– summarise the key lessons learned from these case studies
– review the various ideas, initiatives and business models that might work in the UK
– develop a set of recommendations and next steps.

Agriculture Bill: call for written evidence by the Public Bill Committee by November 20

Call for written evidence: Agriculture Bill

This about the Public Bill Committee scrutiny of the Bill.
“The Committee is expected to meet for the first time on Tuesday 23 October 2018; it will stop receiving written evidence at the end of the Committee stage, which is expected to be not later than 5.00pm on Tuesday 20 November 2018. However, please note that when the Committee concludes its consideration of the Bill it is no longer able to receive written evidence and it can conclude earlier than the expected deadline of 5.00pm on Tuesday 20 November 2018.[1]

Aims of the Bill
The Agriculture Bill provides for a range of enabling powers to ensure “stability” for farmers as the UK exits from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and compliance with the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Agriculture. It also introduces new measures to change the way in which farmers and land managers are supported in the longer term.

It is the first substantial Brexit Bill in a domestic policy area which covers both devolved and reserved matters.

Leaving the CAP

The UK will have to leave the EU Common Agricultural Policy under any Brexit scenario. The body of EU regulation which forms the CAP will become ‘retained EU law’ on Exit Day.

Currently CAP allows for direct payments to farmers (subsidies), rural development payments (including agri-environment schemes) and certain market interventions.

As the UK has been a part of the CAP since 1973 the UK Government and stakeholders have described the Bill as a historic opportunity to radically reshape domestic agricultural policy. The scale of potential change has been compared to the Agriculture Act 1947 which sought to increase food production after the Second World War and introduced higher farming standards.

This 2018 Bill sets out to provide the architecture for most parts of the UK to start to develop their approaches to supporting farm businesses whilst meeting international trading obligations.


The UK Government has pledged to continue to commit the same cash total in funds (some €4bn per year) for farm support across the UK until the end of this parliament, expected in 2022. It has pledged that “any changes made to agricultural funding would reflect the Government’s aim of securing a better future for UK agriculture and for the environment”.[1]

An enabling Bill

The Bill is an ‘enabling’ Bill containing 25 delegated powers with five of these allowing Ministers to modify primary legislation (Henry VIIIth powers). A Delegated Powers Memorandum and a Defra Policy Statement provide more detail on the powers being sought.

The UK Government has said that the Bill is “a deliberate departure” from the CAP approach. These delegated powers are designed to allow government policy to “evolve” in response to “changing environmental priorities and changing social and economic circumstances”, reduce the bureaucracy of farm support and regulation and to enable the government to respond to the outcomes of EU withdrawal negotiations. This includes a ‘no deal’ scenario.

A UK-wide Bill?

The main body of the Bill applies to England. However, Schedule 3 (Wales) and Schedule 4 (Northern Ireland) extend similar powers to Welsh Ministers and the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) so that they can start preparing replacement schemes.

These powers were extended at the request of the Welsh Government and DAERA. However, the Scottish Government has not currently taken up the offer of powers in the Bill as it is in disagreement with the UK Government about its overall approach to repatriating EU powers in devolved areas of competence.

There are no specific Scottish provisions in the Bill. Scotland is however covered by the UK provisions relating to the World Trade Organisation.

What does the Bill do?

‘Public payments for public goods’

·         Part 1 (Clauses 1-3) gives the Secretary of State new powers to provide financial assistance to those managing the land and delivering public benefits such as air and water quality, public access and productivity. (Schedule 3 provides similiar powers for Wales but with more emphasis on rural communities)
Phasing out of Direct Payments

·         To make way for this system, Part 2, Chapter 1 (Clauses 4-8) allows for the phasing out of direct payments (as currently provided for under the Common Agricultural Policy). Schedule 3 provides similiar powers for Wales but there are no phase-out powers for Northern Ireland.
·         Clause 5 determines that, for farmers in England and Wales (Schedule 3) this phase-out is over a 7-year agricultural transition period from 2021 and that no direct payments will be made after 2027.
Potential to ‘delink’ payments from farming requirements

·         Clause 7 sets out powers to phase out Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments and/or terminate them and instead ‘de-link’ them from the requirement to farm during the transition. Clause 7(7) allows for these ‘de-linked’ payments to be made in a lump sum allowing farmers to invest in their business, diversify or retire from farming.
Data Collection

·         Part 3 (Clauses 12-16) includes wide powers, extending to Wales and Northern Ireland, to collect and share data from those involved with/having an impact on, matters linked to certain activities in, the agri-food supply chain. Household consumers are excluded from the requirement.
Market intervention

·         Part 4 of the Bill provides powers to reshape the future interventions that can be made in the market ‘in exceptional circumstances’.
Marketing Standards

·         Part 5 provides powers to tailor and modernise existing marketing standards regarding the quality of agricultural products and product information to customers in England. (This power is extended to Wales and Northern Ireland in Schedules 3 and 4 respectively).
Producer Organisations and Fairness in the Supply Chain

·         Part 6 (Clauses 22-25) aim to strengthen the position of food producers in the supply chain. Measures are included to allow UK Producer Organisation (PO) rules to be introduced in place of EU rules. Clause 25 provides for powers to introduce sector-specific codes. E.g. in areas where voluntary codes have not worked.
World Trade Organisation obligations

·         Part 7 includes provisions to secure compliance with the WTO Agreement on Agriculture. Clause 26 supports UK membership of the WTO and the Agreement on Agriculture by allowing the UK Government to set financial ceilings on the devolved administrations in relation to agricultural support that is considered as trade distorting.
Follow the progress of the Agriculture Bill

The Agriculture Bill 2017-19 (HC Bill 266) was published on 12 September 2018. The Second reading of the Bill in the House of Commons was held on Wednesday 10 October 2018.

Catch up on Parliament News: MPs debate the Agriculture Bill
This Bill has now been committed to a Public Bill Committee and is expected to hold its oral evidence sessions on Tuesday 23 and Thursday 25 October 2018. The Public Bill Committee must conclude by Tuesday 20 November 2018.

Guidance on submitting written evidence

Deadline for written evidence submissions

The Public Bill Committee is now able to receive written evidence. The sooner you send in your submission, the more time the Committee will have to take it into consideration and possibly reflect it in an amendment. The order in which amendments are taken in Committee will be available in due course under Selection of Amendments on the Bill documents pages. Once the Committee has dealt with an amendment it will not revisit it.

The Committee is expected to meet for the first time on Tuesday 23 October 2018; it will stop receiving written evidence at the end of the Committee stage on Tuesday 20 November 2018. Please note that when the Committee concludes its consideration of the Bill it is no longer able to receive written evidence and it can conclude earlier than the expected deadline of 5.00pm on Tuesday 20 November 2018.

What should written evidence cover?

Your submission should address matters contained within the Bill and concentrate on issues where you have a special interest or expertise, and factual information of which you would like the Committee to be aware.

Your submission could most usefully:

– suggest amendments to the Bill, with supporting explanation; and
(when amendments are published) support or oppose amendments tabled to the Bill by Members of Parliament, with supporting explanation.

It is helpful if the submission includes a brief introduction about you or your organisation. The submission should not have been previously published or circulated elsewhere.

If you have any concerns about your submission, please contact the Scrutiny Unit (details below).

How should written evidence be submitted?

Your submission should be emailed to Please note that submissions sent to the Government department in charge of the Bill will not be treated as evidence to the Public Bill Committee.

Submissions should be in the form of a Word document. A summary should be provided. Paragraphs should be numbered, but there should be no page numbering. Essential statistics or further details can be added as annexes, which should also be numbered.

As a guideline, submissions should not exceed 3,000 words.

Please include in the covering email the name, address, telephone number and email address of the person responsible for the submission. The submission should be dated.

What will happen to my evidence?

The written evidence will be circulated to all Committee Members to inform their consideration of the Bill.

Most submissions will also be published on the internet as soon as possible after the Committee has started sitting.

Those making a submission to a Committee inquiry should note the following:

Committees publish most of the written evidence they receive on the internet (where it will be accessible to search engines).If you do not wish your submission to be published, you must clearly say so and explain your reasons for not wishing its disclosure. The Committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish. If you wish to include private or confidential information in your submission to the Committee, please contact the Clerk of the Committee to discuss this. The Scrutiny Unit (details below) will be able to provide you with contact details for the clerk.

A Committee is not obliged to accept your submission as evidence, nor to publish any or all of the submission even if it has been accepted as evidence. This may occur where a submission is very long or contains material to which it is inappropriate to give parliamentary privilege (see Guide for Witnesses for further information on parliamentary privilege).
Material already published elsewhere should not form the basis of a submission, but may be referred to within a submission, in which case it should be clearly referenced, preferably with a hyperlink.
You should be careful not to comment on matters currently before a court of law, or matters in respect of which court proceedings are imminent. If you anticipate such issues arising, you should discuss with the Clerk of the Committee how this might affect your submission.
Once submitted, no public use should be made of any submission prepared specifically for the Committee unless you have first obtained permission from the Clerk of the Committee. If you are given permission by the Committee to publish your evidence separately, you should be aware that you will be legally responsible for its content.
Evidence which is accepted by the Committee may be published online at any stage; when it is so published it becomes subject to parliamentary copyright and is protected by parliamentary privilege.
Once you have received acknowledgement that the evidence has been published you may publicise or publish your evidence yourself. In doing so you must indicate that it was prepared for the Committee, and you should be aware that your publication or re-publication of your evidence may not be protected by parliamentary privilege.
Public Bill Committees do not investigate individual cases of complaint or allegations of maladministration.
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The personal information you supply will be processed in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 for the purposes of attributing the evidence you submit and contacting you as necessary in connection with its processing.
The Clerk of the House of Commons is the data controller for the purposes of the Act.
If you have any queries or concerns about the collection and use of this information please advise the committee team providing your full contact details.
Scrutiny Unit contact details

Telephone: 020 7219 8387
Address: Ian Hook
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Scrutiny Unit
House of Commons
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[1] In the last Parliamentary Session, the following Public Bill Committees concluded their consideration of the Bill earlier than scheduled: Criminal Finances, Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts), Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs), Neighbourhood Planning, Savings (Government Contributions), Technical and Further Education, Commonwealth Development Corporation, Children & Social Work, National Citizen Service, and Bus Services.

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Why won’t the powers-that-be take agriculture seriously?

Of course, people in positions of influence do take agriculture seriously. They spend hours and hours and hours on it – many spend their entire careers – and billions and billions of our (taxpayers’) money. But the world is dominated by an oligarchy, and the people who collectively form that oligarchy – governments, corporates, financiers, and their chosen academic advisers — don’t really see the significance of farming and don’t truly engage with it.
To British governments, particularly of the neoliberal kind — all of them since circa 1980, including New Labour – agriculture is merely irksome: a not very efficient contributor to and sometimes a drain on GDP.  After all, the ratio of money invested to money returned falls somewhere short of hair-dressing. I am reliably informed that Tony Blair’s government seriously considered abandoning farming altogether, just as Mrs Thatcher’s government polished off the coal industry, and for the same reasons: it was cheaper in the short term to buy what we needed from abroad (and of course, for the time being, it still is). The A in Defra does not, of course, stand for “agriculture”, as might be inferred, but for “affairs” as in Rural Affairs. Perhaps that was in preparation for the day when agriculture had been done away with; it would save re-designing the stationery. (“Thrift, Horatio”, as Hamlet said in an eerily similar context). Defra was set up in 2001 and of the eight secretaries of state so far only two — David Miliband and the present Michael Gove — have taken any serious interest in it, although neither is any kind of agriculturalist.

Exhortations from the previous three Secretaries of State — Owen Paterson, Liz Truss and Angela Leadsom — to raise more beef and pork to sell to the Chinese, and indeed (from Truss) to make more cheese, don’t seem fully to get to grips with the main issues.
Big industry, the second great player in the oligarchy, sees agriculture like everything else simply or at least primarily as a “business opportunity” – an opportunity to make money; and since the neoliberal economy is intended to be maximally competitive (barring the odd cartel and tax concession) each industry is obliged to make the most possible profit, or else lose out to those who do. So industrial agriculturalists strive to produce the most stuff for the least money and call that “efficiency”, which they see as the great desideratum. The perceived need to maximize output (“pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap”) and to cut costs primarily by cutting labour have been the great drivers of agricultural strategy these past few decades.

Financiers, the third great players in the world’s affairs, aren’t interested in producing anything at all but just go where the money is (which, after all, is their job) and in matters agricultural the money as things stand is mainly in land. There is no reason why average farmland should now cost £25K a hectare except that rich people find it convenient to invest in it – and the rest of us too of course willy-nilly through our pension schemes; and the cost of land perhaps affects what is done on it, and by whom, more than anything else.  The very high land-prices coupled with the modern zeal for larger and larger units makes it very difficult for newcomers to gain a foothold, and without fresh blood all industries are moribund. The high cost of land means too that all existing farmers who do not own their land outright are obliged to focus primarily on profit just to stay in business. It is possible in the modern economy to focus on animal welfare and wildlife friendliness and food quality and general sociality and some do manage it — but it is very, very difficult to do so without going bust. It should be the job of governments to make it easy for good people to do good things but as things are they often make it harder. It really is odd for example that organic farmers must pay to be recognized as such although all are free within broad limits to base their entire farm practice on industrial chemistry.

Finally, the fourth great player, academe, and particularly science which of course is crucial in a crowded world, is itself dominated by big business, on whom in these neoliberal privatized days it is increasingly dependent for funding. The world should be focusing on agroecology as indeed it should have been for some decades past — treating individual farms as ecosystems and agriculture as a whole as a positive contributor to the biosphere. In particular, we should right now be focusing on organic farming (which certainly could provide most and probably all of the world’s food); diversity (of habitats, species, and genes); a humane, ecological approach to livestock (ruminants and other herbivores fed on pasture and browse, both as natural as possible; with pigs and poultry fed on leftovers and surpluses); and agroforestry, which has the potential hugely to ameliorate and largely to solve the increasing problems of drought and flood and, practiced on a global scale, to reduce global warming.

Instead, commerce-driven technophilic science is focused on GMOs – so much so that the Royal Society no less, that universally acknowledged arbiter of scientific excellence and good sense, has been actively campaigning to promote them, even though GMOs these past 30 years have not been shown to bring any unequivocal benefits that could not have been provided by traditional means of a kind that are known to be perfectly safe (provided of course that the traditional approaches had received enough support and so could continue to develop). In a sense, like the financiers, the Fellows of the Royal Society are being true to themselves, and bringing to the table what they are good at. The molecular biology that lies behind genetic engineering is truly wondrous – science at its most dazzling.  But in the grand scheme of things – if the ambition truly is to “feed the world” without wrecking the rest – the emphasis on GMOs is misguided (and so in this regard is the Royal Society. A little humility would not go amiss).

We might note in passing too that Michael Gove’s new Agricultural Bill, although it says some encouraging things, makes no specific mention of organic farming or of agroforestry. Mr Gove likes to give the impression that he listens to everybody but his agenda nonetheless is and presumably always will be that of a right-wing neoliberal. As always, the square peg of agriculture (which really matters) must be rammed into the round hole of economic dogma (which doesn’t).

It would take an entire, dedicated university (we’re working on it; see below!) to spell out all the things that need doing and how they need to be done and why the things that need doing are so far at odds with the status quo – but here are a few tasters:

Agriculture affects, and is affected by, everything else.

For starters – the overwhelming point – very few people in high places or indeed among the urban majority in general seem even to begin to appreciate just how important agriculture is. It is at the heart of all human affairs, and its deficiencies are heavily implicated in, or are the prime cause of, all the world’s ills, from misery and mental depression and chronic diseases of all kinds and general unwellness to civil unrest and war. It is also a prime cause of the ills that beset the biosphere (the word “environment”, which merely means “surroundings”, and tends to be equated with stage scenery and real estate, should be expurgated) including global warming and the current mass extinction — which rarely if ever gets a mention in mainstream political speeches, although it is one of the most significant facts and indictments of our age. Obviously, too, farming is our chief source of food, by far – and the only source remotely able to sustain present and projected numbers. We cannot afford to let it falter even for a week or so. Agriculture is also, still, the world’s biggest employer by far.

Agriculture could solve all employment problems

Farming is not only the world’s greatest employer; it always should be because no other industry is remotely capable of employing all the people who need jobs. Furthermore, it is the only industry that could employ large numbers of people usefully: constructively rather than destructively; not as serfs but in truly satisfying careers. For the more people there are working on the land – provided they know what they are doing – the more they can focus on the essential minutiae, which make it possible to raise food in sufficient quantities without wrecking everything else, and indeed in harmony with wild nature and with human beings at large. This is not a Luddite point (Luddite in the pejorative sense). The new generation of agroecological farmers can and should make use of all the technologies available, provided those technologies are appropriate (in the sense described by E F Schumacher in Small is Beautiful and Ivan Illich in Tools for Conviviality) and can truly contribute to the grand cause of agroecology. Very smart, discriminating, small and lightweight weed-picking robots could have a place (although I am happy to be corrected on this. Some people like weeding after all, for the peace of mind it can bring; and others point out that there are other ways of controlling weeds besides wiping them out).
But, for example, although Jeremy Corbyn in his excellent address to the Labour Party Conference in 2018 – praised even by at least one Tory MP – promised to find 400,000 jobs in “green” industries he failed to suggest that farming could and should be one of them; yet it would be desirable to recruit about a million ecologically aware new farmers right now, as a matter of urgency, with more to follow, even to begin to put British farming back on an a sensible track, able to provide good food for us all without wrecking what’s left of the biosphere. In the world’s poorest countries, which in reality will never be industrialized to the point that Britain is, it probably would be best all round if up to 50% of people worked on the land. The idea that all countries should “develop” in the way that the present industrial countries did in their profligate and imperialist past is just no longer tenable. So the present Third World norm – about 60% of people on the land — is probably a little high but is surely in the right ball-park. The pressure from the west to reduce the labour force in Third World countries in the name of modernity is absolutely inappropriate. In Britain now only about 1% of people work on the land and if India copied Britain’s agriculture as they have sometimes been encouraged to do in the name of “development” (and big business) then half a billion people would be out of work, roughly equivalent to the total population of the EU. The UN tells us that a billion people now live in urban slums. If all the world adopted Britain’s way of farming it would be two billion. At least.

Global warming

Agriculture as now practiced is a prime cause of all the great disasters that are now befalling the biosphere and therefore, with a radical change of approach and in virtually all policies, it could contribute hugely to their solution.  Green policies did feature in Jeremy Corbyn’s Conference speech (at the time of writing the Tory Conference has yet to pass comment on such matters, if it ever gets round to them) but, as politicians and the other oligarchs generally do, he focused more or less exclusively on global warming and on energy, and especially on wind and solar power (although, controversially, he did not exclude nuclear). He did not mention the crucial roles that agriculture could and should play in putting things right. But then, neither does anyone else in the positions of greatest influence, as far as I can see.

Thus, as all the stats show, farming worldwide – and especially industrial farming – is a prime contributor to global warming; which, together with mass extinction, is the great environmental disaster of our age, and therefore of all ages to come. Farming could, though, be a great ameliorator – first by raising soil carbon (the role of which seems to be to be seriously underestimated); secondly, by shifting away as rapidly and decisively as possible from oil-dependent industrial agriculture to agroecology; and thirdly, in particular, by increasing, dramatically, the number of trees, not exclusively but largely by agroforestry.

Instead, the grand debate that the world ought to be having on agricultural strategy and practice is reduced to a search for scapegoats. Cattle (and other ruminants but mainly cattle) have been singled out as the villains in the piece – belching out methane, a potent greenhouse gas (GHG) as they graze. This has brought big industry, scientists and technologists of the gung-ho kind, and vegans/vegetarians together in unholy alliance. Big industry wants to bring all cattle indoors in giant CAFOs (the full name “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations” is appropriately hideous) with thousands of animals fed primarily on cereal and imported soya (all produced with copious inputs of oil and gas, but never mind). The exhalations of the animals are then purged — “scrubbed” — of greenhouse gases (GHGs) with high tech. It is taken for granted that high-tech solutions must be best because high tech means progress (doesn’t it?) and of course high tech is profitable, at least for the few who control it. The vegans and vegetarians want to ban cattle altogether, at least for meat.

Far too little attention is given to the point, first brought into the public domain to my knowledge by Graham Harvey in Grass-fed Nation, that grassland grazed by well-managed cattle and sheep may sequester more carbon than is released – ie that well-managed ruminants can reduce atmospheric GHGs. I like to point out that throughout the Miocene and Pliocene epochs (from about 20 to three million years ago) there were more grazing herbivores (elephants and horses as well as ruminants) than at any other time (billions and billions of them) yet the world grew steadily cooler, culminating in the Ice Ages of the Pleistocene. To be sure, the main reasons for this were cosmological – but the billions and billions of mega-grazers clearly did little or nothing to arrest the steady fall in temperature. Clearly, much more research is needed to monitor the effects of well-managed grazing on the balance of carbon that is released as methane vs carbon sequestered — and some research is taking place, but nothing like enough. Instead the pro-grazers (traditionally-inclined cattle farmers) and the anti-grazers (vegans and industrialists) are locked in often snarling conflict with little prospect of resolution. But then: CAFOs are profitable and so is veganism, and in a modern western democracy we should let a hundred flowers bloom, should we not? (Provided of course that all the flowers are profitable. But then, if they aren’t, they can simply be allowed to go bust. The market can always be relied upon to sort things out. One way or another).


One of the predicted consequences of global warming was and is for more extreme and unpredictable swings in weather with longer and more extreme periods of both drought and flood – a prediction that seems to be coming spectacularly to pass. Even the doubters in the southern United States must be thinking again as their houses are washed away. Again there is much focus on civil engineering but again, the biggest contribution by far could be made by ecological means, and particularly by farming: more trees (Britain could do with at least a three-fold increase) of the right species in the right places, with obvious emphasis on agroforestry; deep-rooted crops; and changes in topography and crops – contour planting, swales, ponds, bore-holes, and so on. Again, I have never heard any of this discussed in mainstream political circles. As always, the prevailing mindset leads politicians and indeed all the oligarchs towards measures (I won’t call them “solutions” because they aren’t) that are high tech and potentially profitable. Solutions based on biology, traditional practice, common sense, and values apart from those of money — social, aesthetic, moral, spiritual — are not on the mainstream agenda. After all, politicians and intellectuals justify their existence by doing things differently and in ways that ensure that they themselves continue to be seen to be necessary.

Wildlife conservation needs wildlife-friendly farming

Agriculture is implicated up to the hilt in the other mega-threat and disaster of our age – that of mass extinction: at least a half of all other species (perhaps around four million out of an estimated eight million) could well be extinct by the end of the 21st century; not yet the biggest but by far the quickest mass extinction in the Earth’s long history. Again farming is a prime cause – and again, at least in large part, it could be a large part of the solution. For farming currently occupies a third of all land on Earth including most of the most fertile land. Most wild creatures favour fertile lowlands too but they are banished or indeed wiped out by industrial farming, so for the most part wildlife is shoved into the margin lands; and industrial farming for good measure is a major pollutant of all other habitats, including the oceans.

It seems to me that unless farming is as wildlife-friendly as can be managed then the cause of wildlife conservation is dead in the water or at least is holed below the water-line. We need wilderness too, of course, but wildlife-friendly farming and wildlife-friendly cities matter at least as much, and perhaps even more. (It’s amazing what’s possible. Apparently the greatest concentration of leopards in the world is in Mumbai. They feed mainly on feral pigs. This isn’t a recommendation but it does show that even the most crowded cities can accommodate a surprising range of surprising species).

Overall, in farming, we need a spectrum of land-use that includes some element of land-sparing but is primarily one of land-sharing: some wilderness (as much as possible) at one end of the spectrum; some exclusively human domains at the other end (all extraneous life-forms should be barred from intensive care units, for example, and preferably from recording studios and restaurant kitchens); but in Britain at least most of the rest of the land should be as mixed as possible, with people living side by side with other species, both wild and domestic, as harmoniously as can be managed. Apart from creatures like Great Bustards, which are seriously stand-offish, most species seem to be far more flexible and accommodating than is commonly supposed. (Old Delhi used to be packed with vultures and eagles. I saw them for myself in the 1980s, roosting and nesting in the trees by the roadside).


Meat brings out the worst in people. I don’t mean it makes them aggressive like dogs with bones – typically, in traditional societies, meat is shared – but it provokes extreme arguments.

The arguments against livestock farming are of four main kinds: ecological (animals take up too much land and resource); welfare (a lot of livestock farming seems cruel and always has been, though modern intensive methods seem the cruellest of all); nutritional (some say meat is bad for us); and moral/metaphysical (we just don’t have a right to incarcerate, breed, and slaughter animals for own convenience). All of these arguments carry some weight but all except the last are answerable. The moral/metaphysical objection will always be with us.

Thus, there are plenty of stats to show that it takes ten times or so more land to produce a kilo or protein from cattle (say) than it does from wheat (say) and in general plants are far more efficient. But such stats do not tell the whole story. Most obviously, cattle and other herbivores could and should be raised on land that is too cold or wet or dry or steep to raise sensible quantities of cereal by less than heroic means, while pigs and poultry should be fed on surpluses and leftovers, so meat, milk and eggs can be produced in significant quantities in addition to whatever arable farming and horticulture can provide. Furthermore, I know of no system of agriculture or horticulture that would not benefit from the presence of livestock. The key measure is not protein or food energy per hectare but land equivalent ratio. Thus, a judicious mix of arable or horticulture with pigs or poultry, ideally with ruminants interspersed if the area is big enough, typically produces more human food per unit area than cereals or livestock would do alone. Again, provided the animals are deployed as supporting players and not as the raison d’etre of the whole operation, as in today’s industrial livestock farming, they increase the overall efficiency (when efficiency is measured in biological terms, which is what really matters).  Intensive livestock farming as now conceived is just an offshoot of the arable industry – and that really is pernicious. It is profitable, but neoliberal dogma is no substitute for sound ecology (or morality).

Welfare must of course be paramount and if it is, then farming need not be cruel; certainly no worse, for most creatures, than the wild. Overall it’s the desire to maximize output and minimum cost without moral restraint that’s the problem, not livestock farming per se. To be sure, in the hard-nosed commercial attitude that now prevails (and is called “realistic”) maximum output at minimum cost is all that is deemed to matter. Moral finer feeling is deliberately excluded from neoliberal thinking.

The nutritional objection to meat falls short for similar reasons. If livestock is raised intensively on an  unnaturally concentrated and uniform diet; and if meat is seen as the prime or the only worthwhile source of protein; and if animal fat is a prime source of calories — then perhaps (probably) this can be harmful (the jury is out). But if meat is produced only on feed that is as varied and as natural as possible and is consumed in commensurately modest amounts then in net it is surely beneficial: guaranteeing protein quality and providing a wide range of essential micro-nutrients, some of which are understood (such as zinc and calcium) and some of which have yet to be fully worked out (such as the roles of various unsaturated fats). As Ralph Waldo Emerson said (apparently he coined the expression, although it has the feel of ancient folklore) “moderation in all things”. It’s obvious really. Most of what we need to know is obvious.

The final objection – that we have no right to impose so decisively on the lives of fellow, sentient creatures – cannot, I think, be satisfactorily answered. There are two main moral/metaphysical arguments in defence of livestock farming and although both carry weight, neither is totally convincing.

The first argument says that we, human beings, did not ask to be born, but now we are here it is incumbent upon us to look after ourselves. Certainly, at least in Christian theology, suicide is seriously frowned upon. Our anatomy and physiology proclaim that we are designed or evolved to be omnivores and although we obviously can live exclusively on plants (many vegans have been extremely vigorous and long-lived) there can be no doubt that meat, eggs, milk and fish are at the least a very useful safety net (high quality protein, zinc, recondite fatty acids, etc). If veganism was perceived as a worldwide imperative (and as Immanuel Kant said, true moral principles should be universally applicable) them a great many people would be in trouble. We could argue that we have a duty to produce some meat to help ensure that the human race remains in good heart.

But we should not argue (I suggest) that we have a right to raise other animals just for our own convenience – or not, at least, in the sense of “God-given right”, which is the meaning it has in the first paragraph of the American Declaration of Independence (“We take it to be self-evident … etc”). “Rights” in general is a very dodgy concept at the best of times. As Martin Luther and John Calvin both insisted, all good things that come our way are by the grace of God. They are not our right. Eating meat and indeed being alive is a privilege, not a right.

All in all, the best moral/ metaphysical defence of livestock farming and meat-eating that I can come up with is what I understand to be the Buddhist and Jainist argument that while we are on this Earth we should contrive to do as little harm as possible to other people or other creatures. For this reason Buddhists and Jains are generally vegan. But if it is true that it is ecologically more sound to produce some livestock by means that are as natural as possible, rather than none at all, then we may do less harm to the biosphere as a whole by incorporating some livestock farming, than we would if we just grew crops. In short, no creature human or otherwise can survive without incommoding other creatures to some extent but we surely would do least harm to other creatures by farming in ways that are as ecologically pukka as possible: and that should include judicious use of livestock.


As outlined in my essay (III.1: Nutrition: the paradigm shift) in the College website (, present nutritional science is a mess and so too is food policy insofar as there is any. There are enthusiasts for high fat and low fat, high protein and minimal protein, high carbohydrate and virtually none at all, and all manner of claims for all kinds of ad hoc ingredients without which we are told we will surely die even though, in many cases, most people have never had access to them. Of course, most people who have ever been born in the history of the world are in fact dead so perhaps that is true, although common sense says it probably is not.

Overall, modern nutritional theory of the more plausible and justifiable kind tends to advocate “Plenty of plants, not much meat, and maximum variety”; and this is exactly the balance we would get if we farmed in agroecological ways; and it is serendipitously the case that all the world’s greatest traditional cuisines from Italy to China and all places in between, do use meat sparingly while making lavish use of the plants that grow locally (notably wheat and rice); and all are wondrously mixed and various, not least because they make good use of whatever grows locally and naturally – cardamoms in Kerala, thyme and oregano in Italy, whelks in Whitstable (when there were any). So nutritional theory, agroecology, and the best gastronomy are perfectly in harmony. This should be written in six-foot letters over everyone’s desk who has anything to do with food policy.

At present the world produces enough food for 14 billion people – which is easy to work out from FAO stats that are freely available on the web. Thus, one kilo of wheat (or cereal in general) produces enough calories and protein to support one person for a day; so a tonne (1000 kilos) provides enough for three people for a year. The world now produces around 2.5 billion tonnes of cereal per year which would supply all the macronutrient needed for 7.5 billion people – roughly the present world population. But cereals provide only half of our total food intake – the rest comes from tubers, fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, fungi etc. So overall we produce enough for 15 billion. Still there is no room for complacency and we need overall to farm far less profligately but the figures show nonetheless that the continuing focus on production, and the damage that so obviously results, is all unnecessary. Profitable, but not necessary. With proper farming — agroecological farming — we should be well able to support the 10 billion who we are told will be with us later in the century – and to go on supporting such numbers, if necessary, forever (which is what “sustainable” ought to mean).

Serendipitously, the UN tells us that 10-11 billion is as big as the world population is likely to get. The population curve continues to rise, but it is flattening — for it seems that when women in particular have the option they prefer to have fewer children rather than more. In centuries to come the population could and should diminish – not through coercion but because of people’s choice — so the problem of “feeding people” should grow less as the decades and centuries pass. But cool heads are needed which, alas, people in positions of influence often don’t have. Political leaders from all kinds of countries have tended to get pro-natalist from time to time. Vladimir Putin is currently encouraging Russians to have as many children as possible so as to out-populate the US. Women with 10 kids become national heroes. The women in China who are now exhorted to have only one child are the daughters and granddaughters of women who were encouraged under Mao Zedong to have as many as possible, so as to build an expendable army of 100 million. But the global population curve is flattening nonetheless, despite the zeal of charismatic leaders.
Present agricultural policy — production, production, production; ever more lethal pesticides and GMOs; the whole over-heated, over-hyped industrial caboodle — is unnecessary and is obviously very damaging. All we really need is to farm by tried and tested methods — agroecological practice is mostly founded in tradition, though further refinement, guided not least by ecological science, is always good — and to re-learn how to cook. This doesn’t sound bad at all — unless of course you happen to be among the oligarchy: an industrialist or a techy-minded investor or an industry-dependent academic or a politician who wants to appear hyper-modern. For all of them, the people who call the shots, the easy solutions that we know can work are very bad news indeed; and are deemed therefore to be “unrealistic”.

The price of food

Actually, it isn’t true that arguments about meat bring out the worst in people. Arguments about the price of food are worse still.

Thus, those who defend the status quo like to tell us that large-scale industrial farming and the food processing industry and the global marketing network that industrial farming gives rise to, culminating in the supermarket, keep food prices down. This is vital, the apologists say, for if we didn’t do things this way then a great many people would not be able to afford food at all. Already, even in affluent Britain (the fifth largest economy in the world, we are told), one million people now resort regularly to food banks.

Since big industrial farms and the elaborate processing and retail chains that they give rise to incorporate a great deal of material stuff that doesn’t seem strictly necessary, including vast quantities of pesticides and designer packaging and to-ing and fro-ing of more or less identical foodstuffs across continents and oceans and layer upon layer of managers and accountants and advertising executives all with BMWs, this does seem a little unlikely. It is true though that as things stand it is generally cheaper to buy food of a kind in Tesco than in the local organic food boutique. Still, though, impressions can be very deceptive. Thus, prices for fresh, local, organic vegetables, fruit, milk, and eggs at our local farmers’ market in Oxford (which my wife organized for several years) were if anything less than for their equivalent in the local high-street supermarkets – but the supermarkets can afford more publicity than farmers’ markets can so the word never got around. Common sense says that it should be cheaper to keep the food chains as short as possible, and so it would be were it not that oil is still relatively cheap and the giant companies who run the industrial food chains can drive hard bargains. Farmers now generally receive less than 20% of the supermarket retail cost of food. Labour may account for 50% or production costs but that is only 10% of the whole. It  makes very little sense (does it?) to try to reduce ever further the cost of producing food – that is, the 20% — while leaving intact the 80% that is largely superfluous. It makes even less sense at all to try to cut costs by reducing labour. I would be grateful if the experts in high places with their firsts in economics could explain why the status quo is just and sensible.

However – and this is the crunch point which no major political party seems to have grasped – the main reasons why so many people can’t afford food in a country like Britain have nothing to do with the price of food. The most obvious, immediate reason why people must resort to food banks these days is that they, meaning most people, are forced to pay so much for housing. As Simon Fairlie pointed out recently in The Land (everyone should read The Land) British people 60 years ago spent an average of 11% of their income on the mortgage or on rent and about 30% of their income on food. Now it’s the other way around: at least 30% spent on housing (mortgages often swallow up 50%: one partner working exclusively to pay for the roof over the head) and about 11% on food. The difference is that the 30% that used to be spent on food went largely to farmers and farmworkers whereas the 30-50% now spent on the mortgage goes to bankers. But houses have now taken over from money as the principal nest-egg. They are no longer seen primarily as places to live but as vital security.

Houses now of course are notoriously expensive. The house that my own daughter bought a few years ago in South London cost almost exactly 100 times more than an almost identical house that I bought in the same area in the late 1960s (and since she bought it the price has gone up by another third). Houses like the one that I was brought up in in South London which my father bought on the wages of an army musician (albeit a very good one) now sell for more than a million. This prodigious hike has almost nothing to do with the increasing cost of building or even of land prices. Indeed it is possible now with modern materials and clever design to build chalet-style eco-friendly houses that I for one would be very happy to live in for around £30,000. (There are plenty of ads on the web). The enormous prices are caused primarily because, for the past few decades, that has been the intention. Houses, like agriculture, have been seen not primarily as a way of meeting essential needs but as another way of making money. The supply of housing has been restricted for the same reason that De Beer’s restricts the supply of diamonds. To keep the customers keen, demand must exceed supply. This seems to me to be wicked. Yet to reverse the trend we don’t have to be particularly radical or embrace the politics of Trotsky. Building houses need not be seen as political subversion. Harold Macmillan was an old-style patriarchal Tory but as housing minister in Churchill’s peacetime government he found the money to build 300,000 council houses per year. That will do.

It’s the same story with land. Ordinary farmland now costs around £25K per hectare only because land, like housing, and indeed everything else, is treated as a commodity by which smart people can make a very great deal of money which apparently is good for all of us because the money is said to “trickle down”. Except it doesn’t.

This leads us to the even bigger reason why so many people must resort to food banks: inequality. According to the Equality Trust the net income of the richest 10% in Britain is nine times higher per head than in the bottom 10% (£80K-plus versus £9.5K). Before taxes the richest 10% receive 24 times more than the poorest 10%. The discrepancy between the super-rich who have such enormous influence and the poorest is surely at least 1000-fold – several millions per year vs a few thousand. The gap between rich and poor in Britain, the Trust tells us, is very high compared to other developed countries.
As Kate Pickett and Richard G Wilkinson relate in The Spirit Level  (Allen Lane, 2009) economic inequality, especially on such a scale, is perhaps the prime cause of social unrest and a huge contributor to personal depression (it’s not poverty per se that gets people down but the sense of injustice). More immediately to the point – it is impossible to fix a sensible price for food when some people earn so much less, or more, than others. Eleven per cent of earnings for the average person amounts to far more than the poorest can afford, and if the richest people ate what most people eat then the amount that most people now spent on food would be too small to register. There are bound to be such anomalies in a country that tolerates such inequality. With a more egalitarian economy worthy of a country that claims to be civilized everyone would be able to afford good food, and farmers could afford to produce that food by means that are kind and ecologically sound as most of them surely want to do.

But neoliberalism, presented by its advocates as the natural economy of democracy (because anyone in theory can join in the fun and success in the market depends on giving other people what they want) creates and exacerbates inequality. Certainly, inequality in Britain is far greater now than it was before 1980 when neoliberalism became the norm. The reason seems obvious. The neoliberal economy is based on the idea of the “free” market, which in turn is entirely materialistic: only money counts. Everyone (in theory!) is invited to compete with everyone else to make as much money as possible (maximizing profit by maximizing output and minimizing costs) and to bag as much as they can of the market share. In a maximally and indeed ruthlessly competitive market those who begin with a slight material advantage can use their bargaining power to pull even further ahead. So the rich are bound to get richer and increasingly to outstrip the less well-off.

The whole economic caboodle is distorted even further by finance capitalism, which trades not in real things but in money itself. The money does not even exist in physical form but it can be increased hand over fist just by playing the right games on a computer screen. Yet it can then be translated back into real goods, including land and buildings which people want and need. Furthermore, though Gordon Brown spoke of “prudence”, we have been positively encouraged these past 40 years or so to subscribe to the debt economy.

Individuals or indeed entire countries have been encouraged to borrow as much as possible — for all that matters, the theorists have assured us, is the continuing ability to pay the interest. So most of us are net borrowers paying out interest – and a few are net lenders, receiving the interest. Hence, again, the very rich must grow richer while the poor grow poorer. Architect turned economist Margrit Kennedy first pointed this out, as in Interest and Inflation (1990).

So it is that Britain’s and the world’s richest people by far are not those who do real and useful things (laying bricks, taking care of other people, teaching, growing food, taking care of the biosphere) but those who know how to manipulate the wealth created by those who do; and people who do useful things, like scientists and farmers (and indeed teachers), are increasingly obliged to tailor their skills and talents to the whims and demands of the richest.  This can’t be right, can it?

So what’s to be done?

Time for Renaissance and the College for Real Farming and Food Culture
The global disaster and the anomalies are such, and the prevailing strategies are so at odds with what is really needed, that we, humanity, need to re-think everything from first principles; and since everything is connected to everything else we need to re-think everything in the light of everything else. We cannot hope to devise agriculture that provides everyone with good food (which is eminently possible) and looks after the biosphere and can continue to do so for thousands and millions of years to come (it’s absurd that we are now staring Armageddon in the face) if we focus only on agriculture. Agriculture of the kind we need is impossible without an appropriate economy (which cannot be based purely on an invitation to rich people to make themselves richer) and we cannot devise an appropriate economy without a sympathetic government. At the present stage of history we cannot hope to survive without science but science should never be taught without the philosophy of science (which tells us that science has limits) and without reference to politics (for political naivety leaves it open to corruption) or to moral philosophy (what is it actually right to do?). Neither should science or moral philosophy or anything else be taught without reference to metaphysics which asks for example where morality comes from and whether the material world that science so wondrously describes is all there is. And so on.

It is for such reasons that a few of us are now seeking to establish the College for Real Farming and Food Culture as outlined roughly on the College website. I say “roughly” because the website and the College itself are work in progress – and always must be, because there can be no final, definitive solution to the world’s problems; only a continuing and real desire make human societies more convivial, and individual lives more fulfilling, and to keep the biosphere as a whole in good heart, and to go on doing so. “Progress” should mean progress towards these ends. What now passes as progress, to a very large extent, is leading us in the opposite direction.

Colin Tudge, Wolvercote, September 29 2018

Oxford Real Farming Conference Jan 3 & 4 2019: tickets now on sale

It’s our 10th anniversary so we’re looking to celebrate and we hope you’ll join us!

This from the ORFC 2019 website:

“The 2019 conference will be the biggest yet with more sessions, more delegates and a new additional venue. This year, as well as the Town Hall and Christopher Room, we will be taking over St Aldate’s Church. In the Church there will be open space networking, stalls serving simple street food at lunch times and in the evenings, and an evening bar.

As in previous years, evening dinners are available at the wonderful Vaults & Garden and Turl Street Kitchen. Tickets for these meals can be purchased alongside tickets to the conference.

The programme is shaping up nicely (thank you to everyone who sent in proposals) and we will be releasing details of the sessions in the coming weeks.”

We look forward to seeing you in January!

Agriculture Bill – including background papers

Here is the Agriculture Bill published on September 12.

The second reading is set for October 10

And here are two papers from Defra as background to the Bill:

i) A Policy Statement setting out the government’s “ambition for the future of food, farming and the environment” and how the Bill “will help achieve the ambition”. It introduces the principle of public money for public goods that “enhance our environment and protect our countryside”.

ii) A summary of the responses to the consultation on the Command paper, Health and Harmony: the Future for Food, Farming and the Environment in a Green Brexit held between February and May this year


EFRACom has set up a short inquiry. Written responses are invited on the scope, provisions and powers proposed in the Agriculture Bill by Monday 8 October 2018. Evidence to be submitted through the Committee’s Agriculture Bill inquiry page.