The battle to save the Polish countryside

By Louisa Enright | Mar 02, 2012

Sir Julian Rose inherited Rose of Hardwick House in 1966, when he was 19 years old. By 1975, he began converting to organic production. In 1984 he began what Wikipedia calls “an intense campaign to promote ecological food and farming in the face of the rapid rise of industrial agriculture.” He has made numerous broadcasts on national radio and television and written many articles, all of which call for the support of local and regional food economies rather than global ones.

In November 2000, Rose was invited by Jadwiga Lopata to go to Poland and codirect the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside (ICPPC), which she had founded. Poland was trying to join the European Union, and Rose knew that “the renowned biodiversity” of the Polish countryside soon would be under attack. Rose has chronicled what ensued in a short article, “The Battle to Save the Polish Countryside,” which is widely available online.

Why should we care about Poland’s agricultural situation? What is happening in Poland is also happening in Maine and has already happened across large parts of the U.S. If we understand this economic pattern, we can each take steps to fight it. What is at stake is nothing less than our freedom, since our freedom to choose clean, nutrient-dense foods that support our bodies, food that is grown by farmers we know, is being replaced by dirty, poisonous, fake foods that are making us sick while they are making the 1 percent richer.

And we are sick. Dr. Leigh Erin Connealy, who runs a cancer center in California, said in a recent online interview with Kevin Gianni that cancer is now the number one killer and will strike one in two men and one in three women. That’s a plague, isn’t it? Our broken food system is part of what has gone wrong.

Rose wrote that he and Lapata addressed “the Brussels-based committee responsible for negotiating Poland’s agricultural terms of entry into the EU.” No one on the committee was from Poland, though 22 percent of the Polish population was involved in agriculture, mostly on small farms. Rose told the committee that in Britain and other EU countries, restructuring agriculture had “involved throwing the best farmers off the land and amalgamating their farms into large scale monocultural operations designed to supply the predatory supermarket chains.”

The committee’s chair countered by saying that the EU’s policy objectives involved ensuring “that farmers receive the same salary parity as white collar workers in the cities” and that the only way to accomplish this goal was to restructure and modernize Polish farms so that they could “compete with other countries’ agricultural economies and the global market.” Thus, said the chairwoman, one million farmers would need to be shifted off the land and into city and service industry jobs that would improve their economic position.

Rose countered by pointing out that as unemployment was running at 20 percent, he didn’t see how jobs could be provided for “another million farmers dumped on the streets of Warsaw.” A committee member from Portugal noted that since her country had joined the EU, 60 percent of small farmers had left their land and that the EU didn’t care about small farmers.

Rose and Lopata began trying to educate the Polish people about what EU restructuring would mean. Rose described the changes in Britain to the Polish parliament: Restructuring had meant “the ripping up of 35,000 miles of hedge rows; the loss of 30 percent of native farmland bird species, 98 percent of species-rich hay meadows, thousands of tons of wind-and-water-eroded top-soil, and the loss from the land of about 15,000 farmers ever year, accompanied by a rapid decline in the quality of food.”

Poland joined the EU in 2004. Farmers who took the proffered agricultural subsidies and free advice found themselves, as did Rose himself before them, “filling out endless forms, filing maps, and measuring every last inch of your fields, tracks and farmsteads. It meant applying for `passports’ for your cattle and ear tags for your sheep and pigs, resiting the slurry pit and putting stainless steel and washable tiles on the dairy walls, becoming versed in HAASP hygiene and sanitary rules and applying them where any food processing was to take place, and living under the threat of convictions and fines should one put a finger out of place or be late in supplying some official detail.” What was being lost was “our independence and our freedom — the slow rural way of life shared by traditional farming communities throughout the world.”

Behind the EU agricultural policies, writes Rose, were agribusinesses and seed corporations who wanted to “get their hands on “Poland’s relatively unspoiled work force and land resources.” The newly passed EU regulatory policies helped.

Among the “most vicious of anti-entrepreneurial weapons,” writes Rose, are the “sanitary and hygiene regulations” which are “enforced by national governments at the behest of the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union.” These “hidden weapons of mass farmer destruction” became the main tool for replacing small farmers with “monocultural money-making agribusiness.”

By 2005, writes Rose, “65 percent of regional milk and meat processing factories had been forced to close because they `failed’ (read: couldn’t afford) to implement the prescribed sanitary standards. Some 70 percent of small slaughterhouses have also suffered the same fate. Farmers increasingly have nowhere to go to sell their cattle, sheep, pigs, and milk.” With the destruction of this infrastructure, farmers are forced off the land.

The sanitary and hygiene weapons, writes Rose, are now “scything their way through Romanian family farms, whose extraordinary diversity and peasant farming skills are a ready match for Poland’s. Rose predicts Turkey will be next.

This “global food economy,” writes Rose, is “the instrument of a relatively small number of very wealthy, transnational corporations.” Rose lists Monsanto, Cargill, and their “fellow seed operatives Dupont, Pioneer, and Syngenta.”

The push to introduce GMO seeds into Poland has been relentless. Under Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland tried to ban “the import and sale of GMO seeds and plants in Poland” and to ban GM animal feed by 2008. As of 2010, this battle continues. Industry harnessed support from agricultural professors and the media. (Much of the Polish media is foreign owned). And, the EU has stated that blanket banning of GMOs violates free-trade dictates.

Meanwhile, Smithfield pigs, raised on Polish soil and fed Monsanto soy, have flooded the market. Their cheapness has undercut traditional pork farmers. Further, with some of the US’s grain crops going to make biofuels, conventional feeds have become expensive. So, GM soy and corn, once avoided in Europe, are now the “only cheap option available.”

Poland still has 1.5 million family farms. Those farmers, writes Rose, could mount “a full blown peasants’ revolt to recapture the right to grow, eat and trade their superb farmhouse foods, thus freeing themselves from the increasing stranglehold that the bureaucratically perverse sanitary and hygiene regulations have imposed upon them.” There are those “who are waking up to the stark choices that confront all of us: capitulate to the forces of `total control’ or wrest back control of life and work to rejuvenate local communities to do the same.

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