Common-sense from HRH The Prince of Wales

Reinforcing my long-time respect for Prince Charles.

HRH The Prince of Wales, more familiarly known as Prince Charles, is a man I have longed admired and respected.

Many years ago, I worked as a volunteer teacher/mentor with what was then known as The Prince’s Youth Business Trust (PYBT).  Later, it became incorporated into The Prince’s Trust.  The PYBT enjoyed passionate and active support from HRH, and with good cause.  Essentially, the PYBT offered socially-disadvantaged youngsters, who had very little chance of getting a job, the opportunity to be mentored on the skills of being an entrepreneur.  Many of those youngsters went on to get decent jobs and many others started their own businesses, some with considerable success.  Simply because thinking like an entrepreneur is impossible if you don’t have faith in your own abilities.  That self-confidence shows in so many walks of life, especially when one is going through a job interview!

The Prince has also long been known for his concerns over the way we treat our planet, going right back to the days when it was regarded rather quaint by the mainstream media.  But as Wikipedia reveals, “He has long championed organic farming and sought to raise world awareness of the dangers facing the natural environment, such as climate change. As an environmentalist, he has received numerous awards and recognition from environmental groups around the world.”

So it was lovely, but no great surprise, to see how well a recent speech was received on the subject of Regional Food Security given at Langenburg Castle in Baden-Wurttenberg, Germany.  The full text is available on The Prince of Wales website.  Let me give you a taste (whoops, pun unintended!) of what The Prince said,

Prinz Charles Langenburg

Ladies and Gentlemen, if I may say so, this is a very important conference. I am sure what you have heard so far about the problems we face and the obstacles to tackling them has given you a clear context in which to be able to consider what comes next this afternoon.

The aim here is to think through how we might create a much more local model of food production and distribution. But also, how that might fit with producing healthy food using far more sustainable methods and how we might do all of this without damaging business. Indeed, how this could improve business.

As you have heard, the urgency for this comes from the fact that there is not sufficient resilience in the system as it currently stands. It may appear that things are well. Big global corporations may appear to be prospering out of operating on a global monocultural scale but, as I hope you have seen, if you drill down into what is actually happening, things are not so healthy. Our present approach is rapidly mining resilience out of our food system and threatening to leave it ever more vulnerable to the various external shocks that are becoming more varied, extreme and frequent.

Some of the stories about food that have been making the news are simply disgraceful, if not downright madness.  Take this one: Meat scrap leftovers now being reprocessed into ice cream: The dismal future of food!

Or try this one: GMO feed turns pig stomachs to mush! Shocking photos reveal severe damage caused by GM soy and corn.

So see the relevance of The Prince’s speech as he continued:

The drive to make food cheaper for consumers and to earn companies bigger profits is sucking real value out of the food production system – value that is critical to its sustainability. I am talking here about obvious things like the vitality of the soil and local eco-systems, the quality and availability of fresh water and so on, but also about less obvious things, like local employment and people’s health. It is, as I fear you know only too well, a complex business.

The aggressive search for cheaper food has been described as a “drive to the bottom”, which I am afraid is taking the farmers with it. They are being driven into the ground by the prices they are forced to expect for their produce and this has led to some very worrying short cuts. The recent horsemeat scandals are surely just one example, revealing a disturbing situation where even the biggest retailers seem not to know where their supplies are coming from. And it has also led to a very destructive effect on farming. We are losing farmers fast. Young people do not want to go into such an unrewarding profession. In the U.K., I have been warning of this for some time and recently set up apprenticeship schemes to try to alleviate the problem; but the fact remains that at the moment the average age of British farmers is fifty-eight, and rising.

One more extract from the speech:

In the U.K., as elsewhere – but particularly I think in the U.S. – the consequences of this are ever more apparent in the deteriorating state of our public health. We all know that Type 2 Diabetes and other obesity-related conditions are rapidly on the increase. The public bill for dealing with these is already massive and I am told it could become completely unaffordable if we do not see a shift in emphasis. And, of course, it will be cities that carry the heaviest part of that burden. It is a peculiar trend.

Am I alone, ladies and gentlemen, in wondering how it is that those who are farming according to organic, or agro-ecological principles – in other words, sustainably, for the long-term, by operating in a way that reduces pollution and contamination of the natural environment to a minimum and maximizes the health of soil, biodiverse ecosystems and humanity – are then penalized? They find that their produce is considered too expensive and too “niche market” to be available to everyone. How is it, then, that systems of farming which do precisely the opposite – with increasingly dire and damaging effects on both the terrestrial and marine environments, not to mention long-term human health – are able to sell their products in mass markets at prices that in no way reflect the immense and damaging cost to the environment and human health? A cost that then has to be paid for over and over again elsewhere – chiefly, in all probability, by our unfortunate children and grandchildren, whose welfare I happen to care about. Surely this is a truly perverse situation which, you would have thought, could be turned on its head to make genuinely sustainably-produced food accessible to everyone, and the polluter to pay the real costs for the side effects of industrialized food? It is to be wondered at how this state of affairs persists – and yet to suggest standing it on its head and transforming the situation is to invite the predictable chorus of vitriolic accusations that you are anti-science, anti-progress, out of touch with commercial pressures and not living in the “real world.”

The full speech may be read here, and please do!

Well done, Sir!  As someone once said, “We are what we eat!

11 thoughts on “Common-sense from HRH The Prince of Wales

  1. Paul, I am a British citizen and strong supporter of initiatives to improve the environmental and social quality of our planet, particularly regarding sustainability. However, I do not share you enthusiasm for Prince Charles. I am an agnostic regarding the Royal family – not for or against. The Queen has done a pretty good job, and I would have little enthusiasm for a politicised presidency.

    We regularly hear that we will all need to make personal sacrifices to ensure the planet’s sustainability (eg. reducing CO2 emissions by 80%). I cannot take Charles’s communications seriously until we hear declarations of his own personal sacrifices – from someone who could reduce his environmental footprint by 50% and still maintain a very comfortable life style. Does he really need several very large homes, and a large entourage everywhere he goes? The only sacrifice I have heard of is reducing the number of annual ski-ing holidays from two to one. Do you know of any more? Switching your car fleet to hybrids (which I believe he did) doesn’t really account. No personal sacrifice. More would be gained from reducing the number of vehicles.

    I don’t intend this as just an opportunity to knock Prince Charles. Its a serious point. If communicators on environmental issues (especially when directed at ‘us’ feeling guilty) want to be taken seriously, they MUST demonstrate at least a degree of self-sacrifice. They don’t have to go as far as Gandhi, but must show they practice what they preach. Without that, their words are hollow for most listeners.

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    1. Oak wood, thanks for your comment. Let us agree to disagree.

      On the subject of the’debate’ between you and Martin Lack, did you read my request about being ready to publish just as soon as you share your identity? This could be via an email to me, if you prefer. Hope this is acceptable as Martin has put a considerable amount of effort into refuting what you have presented. Paul

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      1. I never thought of it as a debate with Martin Lack. The intention was to put to you and your readers an example of the thinking and opinions of an AGW sceptic – which are most commonly dismissed by AGW-believers as being unthinking, naive, dishonest, immoral, etc. .

        No, I did not see your message. In what form did you send it and when?

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      2. It was a comment from me left under the post in which you so eloquently set out your position. (Apologies. Haven’t learn how to copy and paste a URL yet on this Nexus tablet.)

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      3. Ok, I hadn’t seen that. I would send you an email, but don’t know what it is. You should have mine as its included when I post a comment.

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  2. Very timely words from HRH The Prince of Wales. He has been ridiculed for decades for his advocacy for environmental causes, but it will be a great shame if he ever becomes King (because he will have to keep quiet). This time, as ever, he goes right to the heart of the matter – with his remarks about the prioritisation of lowest price (and an almost complete disregard to quality control, health and safety, and/or food labelling legislation).

    However, in the UK at least, I am hopeful that things will now change: I think the crisis in dairy farming last year – which revealed the extent to which producers are losing money on every pint of milk because of the purchasing power of those who sell it to the public – should have been enough to make buyers question their pursuit of the cheapest milk (on the [probably reasonable] assumption it is all of equal quality). Then, of course, we have the EU wide horse meat scandal – which is a consequence of those who sell us the meat choosing to focus on keeping the price down (and turning a blind eye to the question of what the meat actually was). In both cases, the public are merely fortunate that there were, in fact, very few instances of adverse quality/health/safety concerns.

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      1. Can’t say I had heard about that. Did the supposedly ‘frankenstien food’ seeds escape the confines of an field-scale trial, or were they planted surreptitiously by a local farmer?

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  3. On the other hand (to my earlier comments) a lot of what Charles has done and said are good, especially with respect to helping the young into work and entrepreneurship. He’s right about the need to work harder on sustainable agriculture and food production.

    But its not a simple case of ‘organic good’, ‘non-organic bad’. A lot of organic food is trendy and over-priced. Similar to the horsemeat scandal, there is no doubt a lot of ‘ordinary’ food is being passed off as organic for a quick and dishonest profit.

    In Europe, the quality and origin of our food is more strictly regulated and controlled then ever before. Yes, problems (like the horsemeat) still occur – and always will. That’s the real world. Food is (on average) safer than ever before. In the developed world we have the luxury of having so much reduced the risk of basic microbiological food poisoning that we can now worry about extremely low levels of trace chemicals – most of which are strictly regulated. There are also more regulations to control and reduce intensive livestock/animal farming (more free range eggs, less battery hens, etc).

    In the face of increasing population and demand for food, we cannot revert to 100% simple family farm organic food. We need the innovation and technology of modern farming, albeit with an appropriate culture and regulations regarding sustainability.

    The big food companies (like any of us) will never be perfect, but they are making progress in changing their culture.
    http://www.leafuk.org
    http://www.saiplatform.org
    http://www.wbcsd.org

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    1. I was under the time cosh this morning, hence my rather ‘brush off’ brevity to my first reply.

      I’m pretty sure that if were sitting together enjoying a pint of draft beer, about the only I really miss from the old country, by the way!, and discussing HRH, we would agree much more than we disagree.

      My instinct is that the pragmatics of being such a prominent member of the Royal Family mean that he is obliged to operate within a great number of protocols, covering many aspects of his life. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear that when he first started speaking publicly about the environment and a sustainable way of life, there were mutterings ‘off-stage’. Of course, I have no way of knowing if this accurate.

      But having listened to HRH talking a number of times when there wasn’t a journalist in sight, I became convinced that he genuinely wanted to use his position in British society to leverage benefits for the disadvantaged young. Also, to say voice his beliefs about environmental issues while he had the freedom to do so.

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