Good Food March paralyses European capital

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

That could well be the title of a report about the Good Food March in ten years time, on 19.9.2022. On this first occasion, however, the success of the joint march from across Europe (plus bikes) was expressed in terms of the high level of esteem for the marchers and the march in front of the buildings of the EU Commission and the EU Parliament. Around 500 people from 20 countries met at around 10.00 on 19.9.2012 in a park in Brussels and took part in a two-hour demonstration march past various public buildings belonging to the EU. The Commissioner for Agriculture, Dacian Ciolos, received a delegation from the demonstrators in front of the Berlaymont, that houses the headquarters of the European Commission. In many speeches, time and again you could hear a particular expression being used: system change. (Picture: Demonstrator in front of the headquarters of the EU Commission - the Berlaymont building)
It was an historic event: for the first time ever, European environmental and agricultural organisations joined forces to arrange a march that was followed by a rally at the centre of political power in Europe. The organisers were Slow Food, Friends of the Earth Europe, Meine Landwirtschaft, Agricultural and Rural Convention ARC2020, European Coordination Via Campesina, European Milk Board, IFOAM EU Group and Group PAC2013. Also involved were over 100 other organisations in more than 20 countries.

A good 50 marchers set off from Munich on 25.08. 2012 (see our earlier report) - from Linz in Austria a week before - and they all walked via Strasbourg and Luxemburg to Brussels. In the Netherlands, a group started out on16.9. 2012, and in the Basque country in the south of France the starting date was 1.9. 2012. All three contingents came together on18 September in Brussels. An internet blog carried a large number of pictures and detailed reports in different languages of all stages of the march. The different stages enabled the walkers to visit organic farmers or food manufacturers along the way. “From Munich, there were mostly 20 - 40 people who walked for single days,” said Iris Kiefer from the German co-organiser Meine Landwirtschaft. A hard core of a good dozen cycled the whole route of 1,200 km. (Picture: In front of the EU Commission’s Berlaymont building)

In Brussels, the approximately 150 m long march stopped the traffic in front of the EU Commission’s building at Schumann Square near the Parc des Cinquantenaire, which was where the demonstration started. There were brightly painted plastic cows on a trailer pulled by a tractor, and a great klezmer band (picture) from Brussels was playing. They did their best to make themselves heard over the street noise and to let people in the EU building know they were there. Fanfares on the vuvuzela added to the effect of the band, as did the chant: “What do you want now?” Answer: “Good Food – Good Farming“. People carried green anti-GMO flags and many of them were wearing green T-shirts with the march logo. The route led past the Council of Ministers, the Directorate-General for Agriculture and the Committee of the Regions, and ended after an hour and a half at the EU Parliament. For Brussels this may well have been one of their smaller demonstrations, but it was big on quality and symbolic power.

For the first time, farmers, consumers and activists from many European countries came together and went on the streets to demand good food and to protest against genetic engineering, agro-chemicals, imported fodder, food exports and low producer prices. At three points along the route, demonstrators had brief discussions with representatives of the EU and the Committee of the Regions. This gave the participants the opportunity to explain their issues and ideas to the EU representatives. “How do you think milk producer prices are going to develop? Why doesn’t the EU do something when in Poland GMO seed is being sown? Why are we importing genetically modified animal feed from South America? What can be done to stop landgrabbing in the middle of Europe, where investment funds are appropriating more and more fertile land?” (Picture: Bioland President Jan Plagge in discussion with Thomas Wobben, a member of the Committee of the Regions, who welcomed the concerns of the Good Food March).

Following the demonstration in Brussels there was a panel discussion that was attended by an estimated 800 people. Along the info-mile, people could stop at about a dozen stands belonging to the groups involved in organising the event. On a screen over the stage ran “confessional pictures” of more than 1000 people from across Europe who, in their own language, had written on a sheet of paper what they expected from healthy food production and a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). You could see both serious and laughing faces: happy and colourful pictures, that had been taken in gardens, in front of houses or organic shops and that reflected very well the diversity of Europe.
(Picture: This EU representative was not amused by the demands of the demonstrators)

The crowd was addressed from the stage by some well known personalities like Renate Künast, the leader of the Greens in the German Parliament, Isabelle Durant from the Belgian Greens and Vice-President of the EU-Parliament, the French Green MEP José Bové and Slow Food President Carlo Petrini. Among other things, Bové called for the upper limit on farm subsidies to be reduced from the planned 300,000 euros to 100,000 euros, in order to prevent mainly large-scale farms from continuing to profit from EU millions. Two women from Argentina gave an account of their town that is surrounded by GM soya plantations: “The people have traces of agro-chemicals in their blood, mothers are reporting deformed babies and the cancer numbers are rising.”

Among the speakers was EU Commissioner Dacian Ciolos (picture). He addressed the demonstrators and congratulated them on a successful Good Food March. During the event in front of the EU Parliament a Good Food Brunch with soup, salad and vegetables from the organic-vegetarian kitchen of Wam Kat (Berlin) was available, and there was no shortage of takers.

Following the open-air rally, with a little shower in-between, about 150 of the participants attended an event run by Slow Food in one of the plenary chambers in the Parliament. The idea behind the panel discussion was to draw the attention of some MEPs and Commission employees to the standpoints and opinions of people from many different countries who took part in the march, and then to engage in discussion with them. A number of questions were answered by the parliamentary rapporteurs Louis M. C. Santos, Karin Kadenbach and Michel Dantin.

The concerns of witnesses were clear to see in seven short contributions – they reported on the depressing situation of many small and medium-size farms that have been driven to the point of collapse. One farmer from Germany, who would like to pass on his farm to his son, is advising him not to continue farming, because every day he loses 16 cents on every litre of milk he produces. “We can’t live on a milk price of 24 cents – we need at least 40 cents.” He said that many farmers were angry and saddened. They were thinking of giving up. His demand: “We need, at long last, system change.” (Picture: Poverty in Europe: Homeless people in front of the Directorate-General for Agriculture in Brussels)

The organic farmer Willi Schuster from Ecoruralis (picture on left), who had come specially from Romania with five other activists, sees his farm and way of life under massive threat. He milks his seven cows by hand and laments the fact that the plan in his country is to eliminate small-scale agriculture, with its 4.7 million farms.

Dacian Ciolos, who is striving hard to achieve the ecologisation of agriculture, stayed over two hours, listened and made notes. “It is very important that you are here and are articulating your interests,“ said the Commissioner for Agriculture at the event organized by Slow Food. “The rift between rural communities with their farmers and urban society has got to be removed“. He added that, apart from the decisions made in the CAP, consumers also had the chance with their buying decisions to support the forms of agriculture they want to see. Ultimately, raising subsidies by a factor of two or ten would be of no use if it didn’t support a form of agriculture accepted by society. The Commissioner concluded his speech with: “I invite them (the consumers) to take part in the process of reorientation.” (Picture: In front of the EU Parliament)

The special rapporteur of the United Nations Olivier De Schutter also emphasised in a video message to the gathering that it was essential to re-orientate. He puts his faith in an expanding "Food Democracy Movement", and he gave some examples of it in Europe and America. Under “rebuilding local food chains”, he sees the urgent necessity to become independent of imported animal feed and to build up regionally organised production and marketing in order to overcome hunger and malnutrition in the world.

The necessity of a dramatic change in the Food and Farming System before it is too late was the point made also by Emma Hockridge, the press officer of the British Soil Association: “Organic may not be perfect in all respects, but it’s the best we’ve got at the moment.”

If there’s not a paradigm shift – and it doesn’t look as though there will be – the truth of what some of the speakers on the stage had said would become apparent: “Our march was not the end but just the beginning.” So we may well see more Good Food Marches, with hopefully big improvements in the future to internal mobilization and the press coverage at national level.


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