On the Euro trail to an organic future
Emma Hockridge - 06 July 2011
I’m writing my first ever blog post from the cramped confines of the Eurostar train! Life on the road is a bit odd; a different bed every night, and lots of trekking about with maps working out how to get to the next meeting via the vagaries of various public transport systems.
Although it’s not always comfortable and can take up a lot of time, it's a really vital part of the SA policy team’s work to be out there, making the case for organic farming and ensuring our voice is being heard in the real world, i.e. outside of the office in Bristol! Usually this means regular trips to London (I’m usually there one or two days per week), but a bit less often we head off to Europe to get involved in the wider debate.
This week I was in Brussels, which sometimes gets a bit of a bad rap as home of bizarre policies and eurocrats shuffling bits of paper. My experience of it is quite different. It’s really refreshing that organic food and farming is often seen as a vital and central part of the solution to the multiple problems we’re facing in terms of feeding the population in a resource constrained world. It seems the rest of Europe ‘gets it’, whereas the UK is way behind. See our recent report ‘The Lazy Man of Europe’ for further details.
One of the meetings I was at this week was held in the European Parliament and included members of the EU Commission, along with many stakeholders from NGOs, research bodies and civil society organisations from across Europe. The presentations and discussion were focused on the development of the ‘Action Plan towards a Knowledge Based Bio Economy (KBBE) by 2020’. The idea of the KBBE is to develop an economy in which production relies on biological processes, uses natural inputs, expends minimal energy, and materials are re-used, rather than being wasted. There was lots of discussion on how organic farming neatly fits into this strategy.
It was also good to hear that other significant pieces of work are fitting into this process, rather than each happening in a vacuum. For example, the recent European Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR) Foresight report highlighted how important agro-ecological approaches such as organic farming will be in the future and how agricultural research should address this. The results of this report have been fed into by the group working on the KBBE process.
In the UK, discussions like these often descend into a debate about GM crop production, when in the rest of Europe, quite rightly, it's seen as a tiny, and usually pretty irrelevant part of agricultural science, particularly when trying to reach solutions on how to actually feed people.
All that discussion was washed down with organic fair trade tea and coffee. It seems those much maligned eurocrats have at least got a thing or two right!
Emma is Head of Policy at the Soil Association. Before arriving at Soil HQ she worked for Sustain, Defra, and in the Peruvian jungle. Her family have been farming in Devon for at least six generations (this is as far as the online records go back!). She gets back to the (beef, sheep and arable) farm whenever possible.