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Prince Charles says cheap food and industrial farming are ruining the planet

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 7/14/2021 William Booth

LONDON —Prince Charles went on the airwaves Wednesday to warn that industrial farming in Britain and around the world is ruining the planet and destroying family farms and the web of life in rural communities, especially in his beloved England.

Dressed in a smart summer-weight gray suit, speaking into a microphone beside a vase of hydrangea blooms, the heir to the throne spoke of the importance of nature, healthy soil and carbon sequestration — themes that would be music to the ears of many green activists.

Charles is an ardent environmentalist, along with being a critic of modern architecture and of anti-immigrant populism. His latest entry into the national conversation — signaling a political point of view — marks him again as potentially a very different kind of monarch than his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, who prefers to say very little on any topic in which there might be a division of opinion.

In his two-minute audio-video essay, aired on BBC Radio, Charles remarked on his own experience as a farmer.

“Around 35 years ago, I set out to show it was viable to adopt a sustainable approach to farming so that we could produce nutritious food without destroying the soil that grows it,” he said. “Year after year, I’ve watched with increasing concern as many of this country’s precious landscapes were slowly diminished in the name of efficiency.”

Huge swaths of England today are carpeted in large-scale single-crop fields, deploying heavy loads of fertilizer and pesticides, that would be unrecognizable a few generations ago, landscapes dubbed “green deserts” by some ecologists.

Populations of common farm birds and insects in Britain have plummeted, despite vows by the government to reverse course, and so have many of the features disappeared — like hedgerows — that have given the English countryside its signature look.

Allowing small farms to wither will “break the backbone of Britain’s rural communities,” Charles said. If they go it will “rip the heart out of the British countryside.”

He argued that the emphasis on producing cheap food threatens the survival of the country’s farms, but he did not argue for a way to both support the consumer and the farmer.

Charles did not mention the free trade deals sought by Prime Minister Boris Johnson — with the United States and Australia, for example — that many small farmers say will overwhelm them with cheap vegetables and meat produced by the very industrialized methods the prince decried.

“We must put nature back at the heart of the equation,” Charles said. “How we produce food has a direct impact on the Earth’s capacity to sustain us, which has a direct impact on human health and economic prosperity.”

With its exit from the European Union, the British government is writing laws that may transform farming in the country — the biggest changes in 70 years.

Instead of paying E.U.-style subsidies to farmers based on the amount of land they work, the new British laws may seek to pay “public money for public goods,” and those goods could include butterflies, birds, wildflowers, streams and a more sustainable agriculture that also lowers the country’s carbon emissions.

“If we regenerate degraded soils around the world, we could capture as much as 70 percent of the world’s carbon emissions,” Charles said. “Only by benefiting nature can we benefit people.”


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