Category Archives: Organic vs Non-Organic Foods

Is farming finished?

Bad things are usually done by people who think they are doing good things. Bad things are almost everywhere done by people who imagine that they are acting for the benefit of humanity. I was reminded of this recently by the apparent convergence of views about the future of farming from both the right and the left of the political spectrum. 

First, let’s take a look at the perspective from the left. The vegan environmentalist and campaigning journalist, George Monbiot, has been very much in the public eye recently, using a TV programme on the UK’s Channel 4 together with an appearance at the Oxford Real Farming Conference and an article in The Guardian to set out his views on the future of farming and food production.

In his TV programme, Apocalypse Cow: How Meat Killed the Planet, Monbiot argues the biggest problem driving us towards global disaster is how we feed ourselves, particularly on meat. He instances the ways in which agriculture, particularly the rearing of animals for meat and milk, has rid the UK of the trees and shrubs vital for a thriving ecosystem. Grazing sheep prevent tree saplings from growing, cattle emit greenhouse gases and take up land that otherwise could be re-wilded for the benefit of nature and animals, as has been demonstrated at Knepp Castle in West Sussex. Monbiot also says that English cows in conventional farming systems are fed on imported food based on palm oil kernels and soya; and thus our consumption of meat is an indirect contributor to the devastation of rainforests in other parts of the world. What is more, fertiliser, excrement and pesticides leach into rivers causing toxic algae blooms, the planet faces a soil fertility crisis, and we do not have enough space to feed a growing population. 

Monbiot believes that the existential threat posed by runaway global warming necessitates a radical reimagining of food production, as part of which we must get away from the idea of ‘farming with the grain of nature’. He argues that, to save humanity, we must stop raising animals in fields and instead, produce protein and other nutrients in laboratories. He visited a lab in Helsinki in which a company called Solar Foods grows a flour-like substance from water, air and bacteria alone. The process does require electricity, but with the rise of renewable energy, this could also be sustainable. Currently, the resulting product is ready to be used as a flour-substitute.  The programme showed Monbiot eating a pancake made from the stuff, and saying that it tasted no different from one made with conventional flour and eggs. The scientists say that, in the future, bacteria will be modified so as to produce the proteins needed for lab-grown meat, milk and eggs.

This is of course a step further even than current lab-grown meat experiments, which Monbiot says are less than ideal because they still require crops to be grown and valuable land utilised in order to ‘feed’ the proteins. Monbiot argues that the subsidies currently provided to farms by the government should continue, but be directed into re-wilding and tree-planting projects instead. 

On the morning of 8th January, the day that Apocalypse Cow was to be broadcast, I listened to an interview that Monbiot gave to Charlotte Smith for BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme. She asked him why he thought the future was going to be about synthetic food. He replied that farming had served humanity well for the past 12,000 years but that the Agricultural Age was coming to an end, because factory food was going to be much cheaper. Casein, whey and milk proteins (which constitute only 3% of the contents of milk) are now starting to be made at very low cost in factories and as a result dairy farming won’t be profitable any more. By the middle of this century, most farming in the world will have gone the same way.  People like cheap food and what he called “farm-free food” will be much cheaper than farmed; meat, for example, will be made in factories on what he called “collagen frameworks” from fermented water and soil microbia. For farmers, this will be like the closure of coal mines was for miners and his advice to them was “Get Out Now.” 

Speaking at the Oxford Real Farming Conference later on the same day, Monbiot said:

“I don’t think I’m going to make many friends here today. We are on the cusp of seeing one of the greatest technological advancements for years.  We’re about to see a shift of food production from farm to factories. Farming to fermentation. Farming as we practice it today is not resilient. The shift from the farm to factory, much as you may hate it, comes in the nick of time. The only sector to be unaffected will be fruit and veg. The environment will be absolutely minimal. The best news humanity has had for a long time. I want there to be a way out for farmers, and a massive restoration of nature”.

And it’s here where we begin to see a convergence of views between Left and Right. Both sides believe that technology will save us from ourselves. Here, for example, is Dr Madsen Pirie, a founder and current president of the neo-liberal think tank, the Adam Smith Institute, in an article written for Free Market Conservatives:

“One of the most promising (technological innovations) is the move to create farm-free foods, ones that promise to greatly reduce the massive environmental footprint that farming makes. A paper I co-authored 17 months ago explored the development of cultured (“lab-grown”) meats, pointing out that the price reduction since its inception means it is poised to compete commercially with animal-grown meat, but using only 1% of the land, and leaching no fertilisers or pesticides into the environment, nor releasing methane into the atmosphere.The meat is cultured from a few animal cells that are fed with nutrients to produce what could be tons of meat. Scientists have managed to give it the texture and taste of animal meat. 

This year the Finnish firm, Solar Foods, revealed it has created protein “from thin air,” combining hydrogen split from water with atmospheric carbon dioxide and nitrogen to enable soil bacteria to produce a protein flour they call “solein.” This is done more efficiently than plants grown with photosynthesis, and could within a decade compete with soya on price, without requiring land cleared from forests to grow on.

These developments raise the prospect of using only a fraction of current farmland to meet future food demands, leaving the way clear to reforest and “rewild” much of the land currently needed for agriculture. They herald an agriculture revolution as profound as that which happened 12,000 years ago, when humans shifted from being hunter-gatherers to using crops and animal husbandry as their main food sources.

There will be a massive impact on the agricultural industry, as there are with many technological innovations, but the development will generate the wealth that can deal with this. The biggest impact, however, will not be upon the industry, but upon the planet, as we vastly reduce the footprint that agriculture makes upon it. As so often, it is the unlimited resource, that of human creativity and ingenuity, that is solving the problems.”

One irony in all of this is that many advocates of sustainable farming largely agree with Monbiot’s diagnosis of what ails conventional farming. Here, for example, is Richard Young, policy director of the Sustainable Food Trust: 

“The SFT agrees with almost all of George’s genuine concerns about the impact of intensive agriculture and the serious threat from global warming. But strongly disagrees with him about grazing animals, which we see as central to the development of sustainable food systems, especially in countries like the UK where grass grows exceptionally well and over half our farmland is unsuitable for cropping”.

Young also pointed out that Monbiot has built his position on exaggerated claims, occasional misquoting of a source and global statistics not relevant to the UK.  

Nir Halfon, from Plaw Hatch Farm in Forest Row, has written an excellent account of his experiences at the ORFC, including listening to the debate in which George Monbiot took part. Nir concludes his piece as follows:

“In Biodynamics, we stand by the important role which livestock has to the farm organism. We recognise the importance for them to live in alignment with their essence and character. For them to be able to experience their true nature. Imagine the landscape without cows or sheep grazing in fields or pigs rooting in woodlands. How would that look like? The land needs these animals to maintain itself and keep it fertile.

Clean air, water, shelter and food are the most important human needs. Over the years farms have become solely food production systems. This industrial food producing has had a big part to play in causing the social and environmental issues we face today. In my opinion, local, small, mixed (biodynamic) farms offer all the solutions for these issues; this needs to be highlighted in the media and the British public.”

As I indicated at the beginning of this piece, the adversarial spiritual forces work through the good intentions of human beings. Scientists, technologists – and, yes, environmentalists – are particularly vulnerable.

What both Monbiot and Pirie appear to be blind to is that food is much more than just fodder for our bodies. I have written more about this here. To quote from that piece:

“ Today we still think of food as primarily a kind of fuel for our engines; and therefore we are still without a science that can distinguish the innate qualities of foods beyond their value as fuel. Conventional medicine recognises only the physical aspect of food, which mainly amounts to counting calories and identifying the material nutrients such as protein, fat, carbohydrates etc. But are foods a mere assembly of matter – or is there something more, such as an invisible life-energy, and a coherent, ordered template conveying essential information? (…)

…when we first put food into our mouths, what happens is that the subtle energy of the food enters into our subtle body. The food first gives us its life, its wealth of information, its capacities, its knowledge, its order force (life design principle), its memories and experiences. All these are stored in the subtle body of the food. Foods are in fact highly developed information systems that sustain life. Foods are, of course, also fuels for our engine but only at the very end of the digestive process, and after our organism has first used the food in many other ways.”

Does anyone imagine that the orange froth turned into a flour substitute in Helsinki has any subtle energy or life force left within it?

Of course, health problems won’t become apparent until people have been eating such stuff for some time. What I suspect is that richer people will continue to eat real food which nourishes body, soul and spirit and keeps alive the possibility of accessing the non-physical side of human nature; while the poor will be strongly encouraged and incentivised to eat this new factory ‘food’ which will gradually deprive them of the ability to perceive anything other than the material. We shall then see what Rudolf Steiner foresaw in this blackboard drawing:

It depicts the bifurcation of the human race into those who have the potential to know, and those who will no longer have access to knowing, what it truly means to be a human being. If farming is finished, this will be our future.

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Filed under Agriculture, Biodynamic farming, Climate change, Farming, Organic vs Non-Organic Foods

“This is a problem of nutrition.”

Mention of Ehrenfried Pfeiffer in recent posts has reminded me of the account he gives of a significant conversation with Rudolf Steiner. This was concerning the frustration experienced by Pfeiffer and others regarding their general “lack of spiritual experience in spite of all their efforts.” Dr Steiner’s reply was: “This is a problem of nutrition. Nutrition as it is today does not supply the strength necessary for manifesting the spirit in physical life. A bridge can no longer be built from thinking to will and action. Food plants no longer contain the forces people need for this.”

If that was the situation a century ago, how much worse must our situation be today? Nearly one hundred years on, the combination of depleted soils, chemical fertilisers, pesticides and now GMOs are providing even less support for the growth of truly nutritious food than was the case in Steiner’s time. Today we still think of food as primarily a kind of fuel for our engines; and therefore we are still without a science that can distinguish the innate qualities of foods beyond their value as fuel. Conventional medicine recognises only the physical aspect of food, which mainly amounts to counting calories and identifying the material nutrients such as protein, fat, carbohydrates etc. But are foods a mere assembly of matter -or is there something more, such as an invisible life-energy, and a coherent, ordered template conveying essential information?

As regular readers of this blog will know, the anthropopper is fortunate enough to work for part of the week at Tablehurst Farm, a biodynamic and organic farm in Forest Row, East Sussex in the UK. A friend and colleague, the chiropractor David Thomas, called into the farm recently to present us with a copy of an extraordinary book by the founder and leader of a small Swiss food company, A.W (Walter) Danzer, who has investigated over 50 foods, both organic and non-organic, in his own specially designed laboratory.

Walter Danzer vegelateria.wordpress.com

Walter Danzer

The book is called The Invisible Power Within Foods and is published by Verlag Bewusstes Dasein in Switzerland (ISBN 978-3-905158-17-5). In it, the author says: “I have discovered that organic foods possess an amazingly beautiful life-energy or order force (life design principle), whereas the life-energy of non-organic foods is generally weakened, disrupted or destroyed. Since I find this important I wanted to share it with you, so that you can make informed decisions.”

So far, so underwhelming, you might think – we are used to such arguments from advocates for organic and biodynamic food – but where is the scientifically credible proof of such assertions that could convince professionals in the fields of food, nutrition, health and disease? This is where Walter Danzer has made a great breakthrough. He has developed a method of researching the life-energy in water, food and other substances so as to provide images that arise solely from the water or food-substance itself, and can be understood immediately by anyone.

Danzer pays tribute to the results of pioneering predecessors: he mentions specifically the image-generating methods inspired by Rudolf Steiner, such as crystallising drops of food on a metallic matrix of copper chloride, as well as Masaru Emoto’s experiments with frozen water, and the work of Ehrenfried Pfeiffer and various naturopaths. But what Danzer was looking for was a process by which a suitable image would arise solely from the water or food substance itself, rather than from a metallic matrix that yields images that can only be interpreted by those with expert knowledge.

He appears to have triumphed. His method uses a precise standardised protocol to extract a test liquid from a particular food item, which brings to the fore the life-energy or “order force” of that food. Droplets of this liquid extract are then placed into a test tube, and dried and crystallised under specified, unchanging conditions. These dried drops are then studied and photographed under a microscope. The photos show not only the life design principle or order force of the minerals inside the food item but also in a form which can immediately be interpreted by anyone, expert and non-expert alike.

Danzer’s book contains photos resulting from his work with both organic and non-organic foods and some drinks, such as green tea and wines. He has not as yet published any photos looking at organic versus biodynamic foods, or organic versus natural Japanese cultivation, etc., but may do so in the future. He has, however, looked at the influence of a microwave oven on a herb and the effect of genetic modification on the life force of soy beans.

Apple

Walter Danzer’s photos – an organic apple is on the left, non-organic on the right

What do these photos reveal? The image of an organic apple seems to contain the figure of the entire apple tree, as well as the apple blossoms, seeds and even entire orchards of apple trees. In the non-organic apple, this natural essence is hardly visible anymore. It is blurred, lost and diffused into fragments. Startlingly, even in processed foods there are great differences between organic and non-organic ones. The structural arrangement of non-organic drinks and foods are shown to be amorphous, unorganised and without signs of life. The image of a soya drink made from GM soybeans looks like a lifeless, abandoned planet. By contrast, a drink made from organic soybeans shows what appear to be branches and even six-petalled blossoms.

Orange

An organically-grown orange on the left, a non-organic orange on the right.

Danzer suggests that when we first put food into our mouths, what happens is that the subtle energy of the food enters into our subtle body. The food first gives us its life, its wealth of information, its capacities, its knowledge, its order force (life design principle), its memories and experiences. All these are stored in the subtle body of the food. Foods are in fact highly developed information systems that sustain life. Foods are, of course, also fuels for our engine but only at the very end of the digestive process, and after our organism has first used the food in many other ways.

mikroskop-reis

The droplet from a grain of rice, magnified x 400 – organic on the left, non-organic on the right.

What is more, the way in which food is grown and prepared can create foods that go far beyond the power of their organic ingredients. Most of us can sense that a meal prepared lovingly by a family member is more nourishing for us than a factory-made ready meal; the life inside us also needs subtle nourishment. Humans, farm animals and pets need naturally grown foods that are both materially and subtly wholesome, and thus able to support life. Danzer’s photos show that there are foods that fulfill this need on a fundamental level – and these are organic foods.

For many consumers, of course, organic foods cost more than they are able or prepared to pay. Yet it is a fact that conventional agriculture incurs costs that the consumer is paying for in other ways but which do not affect the prices in the supermarkets. Water pollution, toxic residues in the entire food chain, antibiotic resistance, soil erosion, soil nutrient loss, desertification, poisoning of the honey bee, etc., are just some of the consequences of our current model of industrial agriculture – all of which the consumer will have to pay for, in one way or another – not to mention the health-weakening effects of eating non-organic foods.

In a just society, the ‘polluter pays’ principle would operate here – companies such as Monsanto and Bayer and non-organic farmers would be required to meet the full external costs of industrial farming. There is an excellent organisation in the UK (the Sustainable Food Trust) that has set out the case for True Cost Accounting here.

When true cost-pricing is finally brought about, in the face of huge resistance from all the vested interests, it is likely that organic foods will have lower prices than non-organic foods. There is already one nation, Bhutan, which has decided to allow only organic agriculture within its borders by the year 2020. If Bhutan can do this, there is no reason why other countries cannot set out on a similar path.

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Filed under Agriculture, Organic vs Non-Organic Foods