Slow Food

Extreme Measures Needed to Save Biodiversity

Italy - 17 Sep 11

A prestigious panel of guests was on hand at the Milk Workshop “Preserving Biodiversity, Preserving the Planet,” held at Cheese 2011 on Friday September 16th at 6 pm to debate how we can reverse the current worrying decline in biodiversity. Piero Sardo, president of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, moderated the discussion, asking each expert to identify the greatest threats and possible solutions for real change. Given the upcoming reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), he asked them to address their concerns and proposals to Hannes Lorenzen, senior adviser to the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, who was the last to speak. All the participants agreed that intensive agriculture was one of the major causes of the loss in recent years of both agrobiodiversity (domesticated species selected by humans) and wild biodiversity, identifying specific problems such as the spread of monocultures, large fields, the overuse of nitrogen, subsidies for quantity rather than quality, lack of crop rotation and pollution. Clearly, radical reform of the CAP is essential to halt the current trends, but in general there was little optimism to be heard. “The concentration of subsidies goes to intensive farming,” said Ariel Brunner, head of EU policy at BirdLife Europe, “but almost all member states are against reform. Their objective is not to change anything.” For political reasons, he said, it was in their interests to make minimal changes to the distribution of funds. Susanna Cenni, an Italian Member of Parliament, was also pessimistic about the possibility of real change. Last May she presented a bill to the Italian parliament with measures to protect biodiversity and construct economies around its value, created in collaboration with Slow Food. “With the ongoing environmental, social and economic crisis, we need a completely new paradigm, restructuring our economy not around production and consumption, but issues of environment, health and food,” she said. But with a general blockage in parliamentary activity she seemed to hold out little hope of the bill being passed. Francesco Sottile, a professor of agriculture at the University of Palermo, talked about the importance of spreading awareness among consumers and using biodiversity to generate income. “Economic sustainability is the only tool that gives continuity to conservation,” he said. Francesco Panella, president of UNAAPI, the national union of Italian beekeeping associations, talked about the dire situation for bees, while marine biologist Silvio Greco described the threat to the seas and said that biodiversity and ecosystems must be protected together. Alexander Baranov, leader of the Slow Food Moscow Convivium and a scientist at the Russian Academy of Sciences, brought another perspective by describing the situation in Russia and the work of scientists in preserving biodiversity with seed banks and public awareness campaigns. In conclusion, Hannes Lorenzen shared the speakers’ frustration with the slowness of reactions from governments and institutions, caused mainly by conflicts of interest with big business. He said that without pressure from civil society there was no hope for real policy change, and praised Slow Food’s work in bringing together farmers and consumers, or rather co-producers. “This is our chance to have an influence,” he said, “and we have to act now.” The conference is financed by the European Union