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Carlo Petrini's Address to the EU Parliament During the CAP 2020 Reform Conference

Belgium - 02 Oct 12

Dear Euro-MP friends,

I address you as friends insofar as we modern men and women have evolved new and unforeseen forms of decorum, losing others that may have been more apt. One such is the use of important words. I call you friends so as not to call you brothers and sisters, for fear that these two words, beautiful as they are, might hurt feelings. But the truth is that this is what we all are, we in here and every other living being outside. Yes, brothers and sisters, all children of the same Mother Earth.

Mother Earth takes care of us in every way possible, providing us with food, air, water, fibres and inorganic material to build our houses and our roads. And we must take care of her as best we can, thoughtfully, whatever our occupation or our economic means.

One of the most important and effective ways we have for looking after our Mother Earth is to look after our food. This is why everyone who works in agriculture, in food production, in processing and in policy and legislation does a wonderful job. Because they have the opportunity to grant our Mother Earth her due and help keep her strong, beautiful and healthy.

This is what the Common Agricultural Policy should be for. For reminding us that a united Europe cannot be created simply with a single currency, the removal of customs barriers or the institution of a bank. For reminding us that, beyond national borders and irrespective of the existence of the European Union itself, we all live on the same piece of land, with rivers that run down from the mountains to the sea —which, in turn, brings different bits of Europe into contact with one other — without asking who governs and what languages are spoken in the lands they flow through. We have looked for European identity in many different sectors: from religion to art and inevitably, of course, in the market. Yet it has never occurred to us that part of our European identity lies in the way in which we cultivate the land and produce and cook and consume quality food. For too long agriculture has been seen as the business of the market and not of the identity, culture, physical and psychological wellbeing and environmental and social quality of Europeans.

This is why I am here today, to speak on behalf of so-called civil society— read Europeans — with regard to the new Common Agricultural Policy. Because we men and women of Europe, old people, young people and children, farmers, white-collars, students, housewives, teachers, blue-collars, miners, manufacturers, bankers, the homeless, new-born babies, invalids and athletes share one thing in common that makes us all part of this crucial moment of reflection on the CAP. We all eat food.

Just as you politicians do.

We realize therefore that discussing the CAP and doing everything possible to make it a tool that takes care of the planet is the most important thing we can do together. Here, therefore, is a list of the things we Europeans really care about.

1. We care about the future. This is why we would like the new CAP to become a tool for facilitating the lives of the many young people who, finally, after decades of moving away from agriculture, are again being won over by the wonderful farming profession. In an ageing Europe, for too long concerned more with industrializing itself than with safeguarding its resources, young farmers are a treasure. As such, they must be not only protected, but also helped to grow. Here we have young people full of enthusiasm, turning more and more to work in the fields, not instead of studying but after studying, taking with them extraordinary skills that European agriculture desperately needs. Yet they find themselves up against obstacles of every kind, from access to credit to red tape, not to mention the market. Only the most stubborn, and the ones with family money behind them, manage to stay afloat. Being a farmer in the 21st century ought to be a rewarding profession — simple, respectable and profitable. And in these crisis years, someone somewhere needs to realize that, insofar as we’ll always need food, the only sector that cannot disappear is agriculture. No, let me correct myself! It’s not true that no one has realized this. Land-grabbing multinationals, investors who speculate on the price of food — they certainly don’t need our advice. No, maybe it’s the people involved in quality food, soil protection, water salubrity and consumer health who fail to see that, without farmers passionately and earnestly committed to sustainability, hence economically sound, we will never achieve these objectives.

2. We care about the planet. So we see sustainability as the means and the end of every action we take. Sustainability means durability over time for everyone. It means hearing, every time we encounter an unsustainable project or product, our Mother Earth asking us what a furious Cicero asked Catiline, when the latter dared turn up at the Senate on the very morning his accomplices had tried to kill the man himself: “When, O Catiline, do you mean to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end of that unbridled audacity of yours?” We are asking for sustainability to become the founding value of the CAP, for it to be clear that agriculture is not about selling goods but about producing sufficient amounts of healthy, nutritious food for everyone, without waste. If sustainability becomes the value of the CAP, then the furious debate over subsidies will cease. The CAP’s available resources might be adequate, but it is necessary for them to support sustainable agriculture and those forms of food production that take care of the planet, not ones that exploit it without giving anything back in exchange, producing poor quality food that damages our Mother Earth, our culture and our future. And also damages us economically by undermining the beauty of our landscapes and eroding our health.

3. We care about biodiversity, because it is only in biodiversity that our Mother Earth can find strength, health and beauty. Uniformity, monocultures, intensive production and industrial agriculture based on patented seeds create fragility and serve the interests of a few to the detriment of all. We are asking the new CAP to nourish biodiversity by every means possible, first and foremost with a strong, profound, revolutionary reflection on traditional seeds and their right to be on the market with rules of their own and their own characteristics, without having to adapt to rules created for uniform seeds and devised for food for selling as opposed to food for eating. Traditional seeds, which renew themselves every year and have fed us and satisfied us for thousands of years, should not have owners and should not be damaged by people who only want to understand their secrets to gain private profit.

4. We care about knowledge, about all the wisdom and skills that agriculture needs. The ones that people have handed down to each other over the centuries and the ones researchers might discover tomorrow. We believe that each needs the other and that both should be protected and supported, always bearing in mind the sustainability of agricultural practices, meaning care for our common mother. For this reason we are asking for funding for research and innovation aimed at finding eco-compatible solutions to the problems of food production, processing and distribution. And we are also asking for funding for the protection of traditional skills, so that they can increasingly become a common heritage for generations of farmers and researchers.

5. We care about common sense. For this reason, we are asking for a reflection on animal products, on the damage already done by a diet (hence agricultural production) thoughtlessly biased in favor of animal protein. Damage to our health, damage to natural resources, but also damage in terms of animal welfare. We are asking for products of animal origin, the ones that require the most productive operations, to be regulated to increase transparency, traceability and respect for the right of citizens to information about how the food they buy has been produced. We are asking for the barycentre of funding to shift from animal products to plant products and, in the context of animal products, from industrial production to sustainable production. We are asking for common sense to prevail and for you to remember that food should be about living, not dying, about healing, not falling ill, about protecting nature, not harming it, about building a future, not plundering the present.

Dear Euro-MP friends, this is what I, honored by the task that has been assigned to me, am asking for. To be the spokesman for the demands of civil society with regard to the CAP. The Good Food March that has brought us here will not end today. We are now passing the baton on to you, fully aware that in the last few months and recent weeks we have expressed our will as European citizens and citizens of the world with the utmost clarity.

We elected you to defend the welfare of all, the common good and common goods: the Common Agricultural Policy is one of the most effective tools that you have at your disposal to achieve this objective.

Thank you.

Carlo Petrini
Slow Food International President


September 19, 2012


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