A Butterfly in January

29 Jan 2007

A few days ago I saw a butterfly in the center of Turin—at the beginning of January! Among the various forecasts for the coming year, the one grabbing the most headlines is predicting that 2007 will be the hottest in history. It’s difficult to know how they can be so sure about it, but it’s easy to check for yourself: just go outside and go for a walk. Read the newspapers and you will see that the current trends for agricultural production are going to continue inexorably consuming the Earth.

We learn that from now on if we go out to eat a nice T-bone steak in the United States, it will probably come from a cloned animal. In France the Kokopelli Seed Foundation—which performs the praiseworthy task of conserving, propagating and distributing over 2,000 varieties of rare seeds, selected in the course of 10,000 years of family agriculture—has been sentenced to pay a stiff fine for ‘the sale of unregistered seeds’. And note that France is a European country that prefers to continue regularly paying EU fines because it insists on tolerating the cultivation of certain varieties of ‘registered’ GMOs.

An article published in The Economist a few weeks ago was strongly critical of organic food, fair trade, local food and the short production chain. Using the fact that the sustainability of production and consumption processes is very relative—and this is true—the prestigious publication ended up minimizing the significance of these new phenomena a tad too much. At the beginning of this century they are beginning to increasingly characterize the way we grow food and eat.

I don’t want to discuss the criticisms of these models here. They are not free of faults, though these can be corrected, and they won’t even be the final solution to our problems. I will just say that they are constructive attempts to turn round production and consumption patterns that have obviously gone badly astray. I also have mention something that I agree with in the article: as the trend towards ‘ethical food’ indicates, there is a great desire for change, people are beginning to understand that we can in some way affect our future through our food consumption habits.

Governments and leaders are now realizing that this change should be encouraged and controlled—at local and global level. But it is depressing to contemplate the maneuverings among politicians, the decisive influence certain lobbies still have on agricultural policies and food legislation, while we are embarking on ‘the hottest year in history’. Why is no action taken? Why does the orchestra continues to play on the deck while the ship is sinking ?

It was a beautiful butterfly. A little dazed, but beautiful. But what omens it was bringing for the new year! Poor thing, it can’t do anything about it.

First printed in La Stampa on 7 January, 2007

Adapted by Ronnie Richards

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