In the next issue of TAC, I’ll have an essay about the Prince of Wales as a Traditionalist. Meanwhile, The Atlantic’s site has excerpts from a landmark speech Charles delivered at Georgetown last year, at a conference whose speakers included Wendell Berry. From the Prince’s speech:
However, the really big issue we need to consider is how conventional, agri-industrial techniques are able to achieve the success they do, and how we measure that success. And here I come to the aspect of food production that troubles me most. The well-known commentator on food matters Michael Pollan pointed out recently that, so far, the combined market for local and organic food, both in the United States and Europe, has only reached around two or three percent of total sales. And the reason, he says, is quite simple. It is the difficulty in making sustainable farming more profitable for producers and sustainable food more affordable for consumers.
With so much growing concern about this, my International Sustainability Unit carried out a study into why sustainable food production systems struggle to make a profit, and how it is that intensively produced food costs less. The answer to that last question may seem obvious, but my ISU study reveals a less apparent reason. It looked at five case studies and discovered two things: firstly, that the system of farm subsidies is geared in such a way that it favors overwhelmingly those kinds of agricultural techniques that are responsible for the many problems I have just outlined; and secondly, that the cost of that damage is not factored into the price of food production. Consider, for example, what happens when pesticides get into the water supply. At the moment, the water has to be cleaned up at enormous cost to consumer water bills; the primary polluter is not charged. Or take the emissions from the manufacture and application of nitrogen fertilizer, which are potent greenhouse gases. They, too, are not costed at source into the equation.
This has led to a situation where farmers are better off using intensive methods and where consumers who would prefer to buy sustainably produced food are unable to do so because of the price. There are many producers and consumers who want to do the right thing, but as things stand, doing the right thing is penalized.