Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Organic Protectionism

The BBC tells of a possible campaign by the largest UK organic farmers’ group, the “Soil Association,” to strip the “organic” label from organic foods grown in faraway countries and brought in by plane. The argument is that the plane trips create too much CO2 pollution.

Seldom has the conflict between modern environmentalism and prosperity and independence for the world’s poorest people been brought into sharper relief. By all accounts farmers in places like these countries targeted byt the association grow food that has most of the traditionally beneficial attributes of organic food – better taste, (allegedly) better health. But the “organic” label now reveals itself to be about not food but about food grown by a certain kind of people – namely British farmers. The association notes, accurately, that most food flown in is perishable, as we would expect. (Less perishable goods could be shipped more slowly and thus cheaply.) But, wouldn’t you know it, if highly perishable food from Kenya is punished, the only option British consumers of organic, perishable food have is that grown by British organic farmers.

So far the association claims it will try merely to prohibit the organic label for food that in an earlier era clearly would have been thought of as organic, but it reserves the right to campaign for harsher measures. Supermarkets naturally and deferentially claim that “they stock local produce whenever possible,” but what that means is that they stock it unless price considerations dictate otherwise, because price is important to our customers too. Any campaign against it to which the supermarkets deferred would naturally limit the options for people at both ends of the global organic-food chain - buyers in Britain and sellers in Thailand, Uganda and elsewhere.

The modern environmental movement is increasingly mutating into something crabbed and dangerous – hostile to modern life, to the extension of the opportunities we take for granted (many of which will be used to live the way people in the West do, as much as these campaigners despise it) to most of the world’s population, and about imposing the life preferences of a few on all of us, whether we share them or not. The quasi-religious nature of modern environmentalism, with its taboos, original sin, certainties and judgments (apologies to Michael Crichton), makes it a substitute belief system for those for whom the old ones have faded away. Unlike most religious movements, the environmentalist turns first to politics rather than proselytizing. And unlike most religious movements, environmentalism thrives on the destruction of opportunity for other people, on the pulling up of the ladder just as the world’s masses are starting to climb it. These, surely, are its most unpleasant (and futile) features.


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