Organic farming has received a boost with the publication of a new report by campaign group the Institute of Science in Society, supported by MPs, farmers and business representatives.
The report, ‘Food Futures Now’, calls for farming to move towards sustainable, fossil-fuel-free organic production methods, with a special focus on integrated systems. In some of the models put forward by the authors, all farm nutrients and wastes are recycled and reused, including manure to produce fertiliser and biogas, and liquid effluent to produce algae and poultry feed.
Former Environment Minister Michael Meacher strongly endorsed the report, describing it as ‘the most authoritative and best thought out [agricultural] statement I have seen’. Referring to the converging crises of peak oil and climate change, Meacher said:
‘What the world is facing is a transformation of the world economy without parallel in human history... The coming crisis is a very big one, which makes me much more optimistic about real change.’
As solutions, he argued for predominantly local food-supply chains, with ‘externalities’ such as carbon footprints dealt with through tax and regulation. He called for a rejection of genetically modified crops, more fair trade and a ‘major switch’ to renewable energy generation.
His words were echoed by backbench colleague Alan Simpson MP. Simpson said that the ‘science of overproduction from the land’ would be no way to ensure future food security, and accused the Government of maintaining an ‘ostrich view’ towards the problem. He warned the UK was in danger of losing the skills necessary to farm sustainably, and called for cities to draw up ‘sustainability contracts’ with local farmers. Farmer and founder of Riverford Organics, Guy Watson, said that Ugandan and Kenyan farmers are ‘much closer to solving agricultural problems than we are’, and called for government help in tackling what he described as ‘an obstacle of public perception’ towards organics.
‘Food Futures Now’ was released a week after the three-year International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, which broadly supported organic and ‘agro-ecological’ approaches, but condemned unregulated agricultural markets and acknowledged the limited potential of genetically modified crops.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist June 2008