A not-too-distant dystopia
I often tell my students the worst career choice they can make is one where they are not inspired by their professional activity and unable to follow their passions. Then it becomes just a job for some extrinsic worth (eg, paying the rent). This is how European farmers must be feeling when activist fear campaigns have led to political and market pressure to produce more organic food. They don’t believe that organic is safer, they see the lower yields, increased infestations and a poverty of options. They would be forced to switch to growing organic to simply try to pay the rent. Unlike the organic activist farmers who loudly and proudly believe they are changing the world by bringing their cult beliefs into the cultivation process (with each horn they lovingly fill with dung), the conventional farmer, forced by market forces to switch to organic, is merely concerned with compliance and a label. A little of their soul must die with each infestation and lost yield.
As a marketing label rather than a cult belief system, it is hard to consider the word “organic” as carrying any worth (outside of a higher price charged to consumers who struggle to afford such a luxury food ideology imposed on them by some functionary in Brussels). So when the European Commission attempts to impose a 25% organic requirement on farmers who have zero respect for Brussels, expect something unusual to be sprouting from fertile European soil. What these farmers will be growing will be defined as “organish” – kind of organic but really only an approximation of an ideal in order to meet the lowest possible bar of labelling certification.
As Farm2Fork arbitrarily shifts Europe to a pointless promotion of this fear-based marketing concept, the standards will certainly lower, compliance measures weakened, inspections limited and exemptions or derogations spreading faster than insect infestations. “Organish” will be a compromise of the present organic food standards set by some regulatory ciphers to tick a very flexible box.
Without the cult belief system, organish advocates lack sincerity and integrity (like vegetarians who eat fish). It will be a meaningless term that will confuse consumers. It is not organic but pretends enough to let the regulators in Brussels feel like they have done their job and met their random, pointless targets.
An Offspring Conceived from Fear and Lies
The organic marketing label, built on fear and lies, has already been riddled by cheats and charlatans manipulating a corrupt supply chain for a quick buck. When more farmers are forced to use this quasi-cult standard as an opportunity, trust in organish food will further erode in a cynical game producing nothing but victims and disrespect. Most farmers I have met are honest, hardworking and sincere. Imposing integrity-challenged guidelines onto their profession (forcing them to lie) will breed intolerance and contempt. Many farmers will leave their land, others will take the restrictions as a challenge and some, sadly, will bend the rules in a system that failed to earn their respect. Public trust in the food chain will decline and hardcore cult cultivators will come up with a harsher food marketing label (biodynamic, permaculture…) to separate themselves and harm the environment and consumers even further.
How many then will be able to look back at how senseless Frans Timmermans and his Farm2Fork activists were when they imposed an uninspiring, unscientific marketing concept on the food chain? How many of his staff will have seen the mistakes in this bad policy, seen the uncompromising intransigence of Timmermans and his representation of the organic food industry lobby, and will have simply been waiting until his departure before watering down the definitions?
Whatever happened to consultation, engagement and good governance?
Moving the Organish Goalposts
Europe has made a virtue out of making grand gestures and visions that have led to unimplementable policies that then force its functionaries to quietly move the goalposts. My textbooks are littered with case studies like the Sustainable Use or EMF Directives. So what will the new EU organish label allow?
Organish will tolerate pretty much everything most conventional farmers are doing today but with additional costs and a feel-good label. For example:
- At times of unfavourable growing conditions, derogations will be provided for farmers to use synthetic pesticides. Because of the volume of exceptions, the process will be simplified and automated.
- As costs for the production of natural-based (organic) pesticides will skyrocket and put serious food security and deforestation strains on developing countries like Rwanda (where such the plants for organic-approved pesticides are grown), the European Commission will allow these organic pesticides to be synthetically produced.
- Since these pesticides will be manufactured in factories (as organish synthetics), the active ingredients will be quietly augmented to ensure they are actually effective.
- Different types of seed-breeding technologies will be redefined to be “natural” and thus organish-approved.
Organish farming will quickly become much like conventional farming but more expensive, less certain and worse for the environment. And Timmermans will, no doubt, proudly herald his great achievement.
How will the activists in NGOs like PAN or CEO react to this new, watered down organish label? So long as the big chemical companies are not involved, they may look the other way as the organic label is diluted to support organish farming. For the zealots it was always more about fighting to eradicate industry and capitalism than providing better, safer food. IFOAM, the global organic food industry lobby, will not say a word since they have made a dreadful habit of looking the other way on most issues and tolerating every highly toxic chemical as organic-approved (including nasties like rotenone and copper sulphate). Pragmatists in the organic food lobby might see this as a necessary first step in accommodating a market conversion without public reaction against the suffering imposed on EU consumers or smallholders in developing countries. But the radicals and the zealots in the movement will be outraged at the watering down of their food ideology and may condemn organish advocates as heretics (pass the popcorn). This will create public confusion, cynicism and just one more case of Europe being unable to lead in any effective manner.
Why is the European Commission forcing farmers to choose between lying or abandoning their fields? Why is Timmermans supporting a marketing label and playing into the pocket of the organic food industry lobby? Why is von der Leyen’s cabinet making such a fool out of Brussels, further eroding trust and respect at the Member State level? Why are they knowingly hurting consumers, public health and the environment and refusing to compromise?
In the coming years, as more studies into organish farming contradict each other, many farmers will quietly go back to conventional practises and we will have all forgotten there was ever such a thing as Farm2Fork. I’m sure by then some functionary in Brussels will have been influenced by a more radical Lysenko-inspired group to introduce a new high-minded vision to work towards (“Biodynamic Europe 2050” perhaps). The agroecologists seem to have a lot of money to spend and their activists have infiltrated the FAO so expect a social justice label on your hamburger. Sad though about all of the wasted time, costs and lost trust in the food chain that Farm2Fork will have inflicted on consumers and farmers before then.
With the residual Organish label lingering for several more years, the joke that Brussels has become will still likely be hidden under redefinitions and the EU will continue to grind on and live to fight another day, perhaps with fewer Member States and less public trust and respect. There has to be a better way to policy than the confused diktats von der Leyen and Timmermans are presently imposing on their long-suffering staff and the European public.