Prince Charles attacks food production methods at German symposium
Prince of Wales calls for more local model of food production and distribution following recent public health scares
Monday 27 May 2013
The Prince of Wales launched a wide-ranging attack on current food production methods he said have led to the horsemeat scandals and declining public health, particularly in the US.
In a speech at a conference in Germany on regional food security, he called for the creation of a more local model of food production and distribution.
Addressing the Langenburg Forum at Langenburg Castle in the state of Baden-Württemberg, he said there was not sufficient resilience in the system.
"It may appear that things are well," he said. "Big global corporations may appear to be prospering out of operating on a global monocultural scale, but, as I hope you have seen, if you drill down into what is actually happening, things are not so healthy.
"Our present approach is rapidly mining resilience out of our food system and threatening to leave it ever more vulnerable to the various external shocks that are becoming more varied, extreme and frequent."
Charles said the drive to make food cheaper for consumers and to earn companies bigger profits was sucking real value out of the food production system – value that was critical to its sustainability.
He said: "I am talking here about obvious things like the vitality of the soil and local ecosystems, the quality and availability of fresh water and so on, but also about less obvious things, like local employment and people's health. It is, as I fear you know only too well, a complex business.
"The aggressive search for cheaper food has been described as a 'drive to the bottom', which I am afraid is taking the farmers with it. They are being driven into the ground by the prices they are forced to expect for their produce and this has led to some very worrying shortcuts.
"The recent horsemeat scandals are surely just one example, revealing a disturbing situation where even the biggest retailers seem not to know where their supplies are coming from.
"It has also led to a very destructive effect on farming. We are losing farmers fast. Young people do not want to go into such an unrewarding profession.
"In the UK, I have been warning of this for some time and recently set up apprenticeship schemes to try to alleviate the problem, but the fact remains that at the moment the average age of British farmers is 58, and rising."
Pressure to produce cheap food also created social and economic problems, he said.
"In the UK, as elsewhere – but particularly, I think, in the US – the consequences of this are ever more apparent in the deteriorating state of our public health," Charles said.
"We all know that type 2 diabetes and other obesity-related conditions are rapidly on the increase.
"The public bill for dealing with these is already massive and I am told it could become completely unaffordable if we do not see a shift in emphasis. And, of course, it will be cities that carry the heaviest part of that burden."
The prince asked if he was alone in wondering how it was that those who were farming sustainably, for the long term, by operating in a way that reduced pollution and contamination of the natural environment to a minimum and maximised the health of soil, biodiverse ecosystems and humanity, were then penalised.
He said: "They find that their produce is considered too expensive and too 'niche market' to be available to everyone.
"How is it, then, that systems of farming which do precisely the opposite – with increasingly dire and damaging effects on both the terrestrial and marine environments, not to mention long-term human health – are able to sell their products in mass markets at prices that in no way reflect the immense and damaging cost to the environment and human health?
"A cost that then has to be paid for over and over again elsewhere – chiefly, in all probability, by our unfortunate children and grandchildren, whose welfare I happen to care about."
The prince added: "So, as I hope you can see, the success of a globalised system is being subsidised by many complex, long-term problems that contribute to a potentially toxic mix, making the food it produces not cheap at all.
"In fact, it is very expensive. The only reason it appears cheap in the shops is because the costs either fall somewhere else, or they are being stored up for the future."
It was necessary for food to be produced in a more sustainable and eco-friendly manner and for food systems to be less globally dependent and more locally inter-connected, he said.
The prince was invited to address the delegates by his distant relative Philipp, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, who helped organise the event.