More organic farmers, less pesticides

Prof. em Jan Stel, co-chair

We are not against farmers. We also need to eat. And three up on an apartment, I don’t have a vegetable garden. But we are against heavily subsidized industrialized agriculture. We think we need more organic farmers who work without pesticides. So, no halving of the SUR as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, announced on February 6 in the European Parliament!

And the farmer he ploughed on
I was born in Groningen in the Netherlands. It traditionally is an agricultural region. I love the wide polder landscape, with its small rustic villages having an old church, and around it, the old cemetery with sloping tombstones.
But then they flooded parts of a polder again. Houses had to be built for rich Hollanders from the West of the country. That is the Blauwestad (Blue City), bordering Winschoten and close to the German border. The plan was a dream of somebody, who became rich. But the rich Hollanders do not find their way to the Blauwestad, in this remote corner of the country.
Ten years ago, I visited it several times, and had to smile about the lack of visions. I actually came across a statue of Sicco Mansholt, who grew up on a farm. He was nicknamed the “King of Europe” for his contribution to the unification process of Europe, and his then innovative agricultural policy in the 1960s and 1970s. He was the fourth president of the European Commission. Technological innovation and fixed minimum prices were keystones of his famous Mansholt Plan. His ideas laid the basis for the EU Common Agricultural Policy, one of the most prominent policies since its founding days. Currently, roughly a third of the EU budget goes to this sector.

Mansholt’s statue is surrounded by a small pond. One cannot touch him. Just look. With his height of nearly two meters, he was a big man. The statue does him credit, with his boots firmly planted in the greasy, Dutch clay. A seagull sat on its striking head. They did so often, given the poop.
I ponder the vision of this socialist politician and finally think of Frans Timmermans, whom I admire. I turn around and walk away. The seagull accelerates and flies away. Leaving another dirty white spot on its head.

Stop poisoning our food and environment
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) addressed the rampant use of pesticides during the Second World War, and its environmental harm. She accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation, and public officials of unquestioningly accepting the industry marketing claims. Today, we know this so well from too many multinationals and their despised lobbyists.
The industrialized and globalized food industry is sickening, like the fossil industry, the fisheries etc. Together, they are polluting the environment and our world. Timmerman’s Green Deal is a daring and innovative plan for a better and just world. It is a major contribution to the sustainability transition. It‘s fighting the doom scenarios of the triple planetary crisis, and creating a healthy and just society for the generations to come. And like, in Mansholt his time, it is leading to chaos once in a while.
Yet, the Green Deal and especially the Farm to Fork part, which relates to our complex and expensive food chain, is opposed by right wing political parties. Slowly this ticket to a better future and world is being sacrificed to short-sightedness, nationalism, inaction and self-preservation. ‘Just forget the future, we already have enough problems’ is the populistic reasoning. ‘Own people first’ slogans and so on. We are in the eye of a social storm and in the middle of a home-made climate crisis never seen before.

Farmers strike: many huge tractors
I have mixed feeling with the farmers strikes of the last two weeks. I understand their cry-out for a better price for their products, and less Kafkian regulations from the government and especially the EU. They have a right to protest. But that does not mean that consumers should pay more as some media experts and TV personalities and famous local presenters in rather ridiculous current affairs programs in Flanders, claim. It’s our climate crisis and our unjust food industry chain, stupid!
‘Where is the broader picture?’ I often wonder.
One of the effects was another blow to the Green Deal, which apparently is not Ursula von der Leyen’s favourite. Last Tuesday she announced in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the withdrawal of the Sustainable Use Regulation, SUR. This new Pesticides Directive is needed to allow for halving the use of pesticides in Europe by 2030, just a handful of years away and urgently needed.
This is again a victory for the agrochemical industry and a step backwards in the protection of our health and biodiversity. Basically, this is, in my opinion, murder by negligence. Again politicians, with Ursula in the lead, are ignoring the advice of 6,000 scientists and a million European citizens.
During her speech Von der Leyen spoke at length about farmers, which in her words “deserve to be listened to” when facing the consequences of our climate and biodiversity crisis, which they contribute to by their activities. She did not make any distinction between the industrialized agricultural sector, and the organic farmers. The first one is highly subsidized and uses large amounts of pesticides. The latter do not use pesticides, and should be stimulated more. We need thousands of these farmers, to produce a healthy and less risky environment for the generations to come.

So, please vote for the future of your grandchildren this year. Their future is in your hands!