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,
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!
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!“