HomeFood & BeverageSlow food for the farmers' protests: «For a change, we are asking...

Slow food for the farmers’ protests: «For a change, we are asking you, the consumers, for help»

It is true that those working in agriculture are left on their own, amid paltry commodity prices and hellish bureaucracy, and have been for years, but what is happening in Europe today? Farmers’ complaints are directed against the measures of CAP, Common Agricultural Policyand in particular the rules related to environmental protection, but how is it possible that Green dealwhich is the solution to the problem is being confused with the cause of the problem and that the conflict is being trivialized by reducing it to farmers versus environmentalists?

The consequences of the problem are numerous, the protests are exploited in different ways, but it is certain that the losers today are the farmers together with the citizens, both forced to live in a system that starves everyone, farmers without a future, forced into catastrophically intensive production that does not bring economic results, and citizens hungry for quality food, forced to eat unhealthy products and live in increasingly -harmful. So who benefits from this? And how can we change a system that can therefore have no future? We talked about it with Serena Milan, Director of Slow Food Italy.

What is happening in Europe? Shouldn’t farmers and environmentalists be on the same page in the need for more environmental protection?
“We should have, but the problem is that we should not have come to this, we should not have allowed anger to grow in the primary sector, which has suffered for many years. It is true that this is the sector that receives the largest share of European subsidies, but we forget that these subsidies reach a minority of large companies, while everyone else operates at a loss, overwhelmed by bureaucracy and crushed by the prices of the big companies. large scale distribution. The death of small business is alarming. There are seasons when farmers tell us they don’t pick fruit because they don’t pay the labor costs. Many companies struggle not only to make money but also to cover costs, and the same goes for farmers. In recent years we have witnessed protests by Sardinian shepherds: to throw hand-milked sheep’s milk on the street is to be desperate.”

And now the cap is blown
“All this has been ignored for decades and we have reached a situation of anger and tension where everything happens and the opposite of everything. We start from genuine discomfort and direct complaints at the wrong target. The Green Deal is the wrong goal because if soil fertility is not protected, farmers will be the first victims. Respect for the land should be at the heart of agriculture, but this only applies to some virtuous farmers because industrial agriculture continues to pursue yields and cost reduction. They affect the environment and in any case they are also struggling and with the reduction of European subsidies they will no longer be able to do so. However, this is a truth that not only I know, it is something known that all of politics knows.”

What had to be done before it got to this point?
«The change had to be accompanied, now in a situation of anger, any intervention, even the most just, becomes an explosive fuse if it is not explained and compensated, if it is not said: “Everything is fine, leave the fields aside, do the rotations, but we pay the right price for your wheat.” If only requests arrive and there is no response to the existing discomfort, a clash of civilizations will be triggered, environmentalists on one side, farmers on the other, the European Union on one side and politics on the other, which uses protest for electoral purposes. The discomfort starts from deep causes, it cannot be reduced to farmers who do not pay taxes, receive subsidies, pollute and do not want environmental regulations. This narrative is the result of a myopic vision that does not look at what is behind him. I reread a phrase by ecologist Alexander Langer who said “the ecological transition will be primarily social or it won’t be” and he is right, the ecological transition must be primarily social, instead agriculture has really been left behind because simply no one was interested, because it represents a minimal share of the electorate, only 3-4% are employed in the agricultural sector. Yet all our food comes from this little piece.”

Who benefits from a system that doesn’t work?
“It’s a system where farmers certainly don’t win.” The fact is that industrial agriculture is based on seeds, pesticides and fertilizers that are mostly sold by large multinational companies. I believe that in the end, only the big multinationals who control more than 70% of the seeds, but also animal genetics, large-scale distribution, even food transportation, win. Big financial groups and multinational companies are the only ones who profit from industrial agriculture and intensive farming. Everyone else, farmers, ranchers and consumers, loses.”

It is true that the farmers along with the citizens are the real victims. What could be the solution?
“There is not one, there must be many solutions. In the meantime, we absolutely must diffuse this conflict, we must dialogue with the world of agriculture, support it and accompany it to make an ecological transition, yes, but supported. On the other hand, we need to raise consumer awareness, because if consumers recognize the value of products produced with respect for the environment and paid fairly, then the circle becomes virtuous. This means, on the one hand, to work on food education, and on the other, to support virtuous producers, who today have no advantages, only disadvantages. They do it out of passion, maybe because they are connected to this mountainous region to save a certain race, they have a series of moral and emotional motivations, but they have no economic and social recognition for what they are doing. Think of all the shepherds, a job that is often almost ridiculed, but the mountain is based on the work of the shepherds, on the care of the meadows and forests that also make it accessible to tourists. It is crucial work, but it is not recognized: where there is a shepherd, there are no fires, there are no landslides, but no one knows him. We took care of a part of Italy and forgot the politics of the internal territory, which is 70% of our territory.”

I have always believed in the possibility of change from the bottom up, we the consumers are the ones who drive the market and we can change it by choosing better food. I expect the objection raised by many “we can’t pay more for groceries”, what do you think?
“This objection is true, but I would like to point out two things: the impressive figure of food we throw away and the impressive figure of obesity in Italy. These are already two elements that, if changed, will allow us to buy less and pay fairly for products. Instead, we buy more and more ultra-processed products, ready-made products, ham slices in plastic wrap, ready-made soup, scrambled eggs, bought packaged. Packaged lettuce costs 10 times more per kilo than a head of lettuce. In reality, we buy and pay for plastics, fats, flavorings and preservatives, and much more. Maybe it’s better to pay the right price for fresh vegetables, mountain cheese, well-made bread that lasts you a week, rather than cheap bread that has to be thrown away the next day. It’s a cultural problem rather than an economic problem.”

What is the connection between intensive agriculture, meat consumption and the agricultural crisis?
“Intensive farming is an important part that should be linked to monocultures for feed production, which takes away space from other crops. Meat consumption has increased dramatically over the last fifty years and this is a health, animal welfare and climate crisis issue as agriculture has significant impacts in terms of CO2, fine particles, excrement that ends up in groundwater and resistance to antibiotics. Also in this case the issue is not waging war on farmers and making fun of them, the issue is how to transform the sector so that it becomes sustainable, how to educate people so that they eat less meat and rediscover pulses , which are noble proteins that do not cost much and whose cultivation enriches the earth”.

A global vision is needed. For example, if you don’t offer services to interior areas like schools and doctors, you lose people who monitor the territory. Perhaps the revolution needed is even broader, not just agricultural
“It’s as if politics lacks a vision. You need to have an overall vision to understand where the country is going and guide it. It’s all part of the same discussion, you can’t take any part of it, just the ranchers, just the fallows, just the diesel, you have to put it all together. And only politics can put everything together.”

Does politics hold the levers for this change?
“I agree with you that change can come from below, and at the moment I believe more in that than in politics, but we must not get tired of demanding that politics have a long-term and comprehensive vision, because anything is possible, one element can help on another, as upland revitalization can help the problem of intensive farming, nutrition education in schools, which we believe should be compulsory, can be a decisive step in promoting quality production. These are issues that have not been on the table for too many years and they need to be addressed.”

Source: VanityFair

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