As European farming protests become more pronounced and widespread, farmer, author and columnist, Joe Stanley, has warned UK farmers of being “lured” by opportunistic “far right rhetoric”.
Across France motorway routes have been blocked since protests began a week ago. In Germany farmers have used tractors to block ports, including Hamburg, one of the busiest European hubs for container shipping.
The protests are against plans to scrap direct farm subsidies and to link future payments with the delivery of improved environmental land management. There is concern that farm incomes will be hit by nature protections and that cheaper, lower quality imports will outcompete home produced food.
While there is recognition from many farmers across the continent that agriculture and food systems need to change to address the ecological crisis, there is also fear of what the future may hold for their businesses.
In a letter to Farmers’ Weekly, Joe Stanley said, “Farming across Europe is facing significant challenges, ever-greater pressure from the supply chain, volatile commodity prices, increasing environmental and regulatory burdens, and outright prejudice from people who know nothing about the realities of producing food.
“Farmers in several European countries have understandably taken to the streets in mass protests to make their voices heard. I do not blame them.
“However, in moving beyond simple protests towards full political representation, some of these groups have gravitated (or been lured) towards more unsavoury, populist political platforms. Demagogues of the far right have embraced the farmer movements, using them to amplify their own deeply unsavoury, often ethno-nationalist agendas – usually combined with climate change denial.
“I would warn British farmers to be careful how much of this narrative they reflexively support. By all means support fellow farmers across the sea in their struggles, which are so similar to our own. But do not fall into the historic trap of allowing yourselves to be fooled by the siren call of the far right. As Europeans, we know where that leads.”
Responding to similar concerns in Britain – but in stark contrast to European farming protests – Riverford founder, Guy Singh-Watson, initiated a petition on the UK Parliament website. The petition received over 113,000 signatures and triggered a Westminster Hall debate. As the debate took place, Singh-Watson planted 49 scarecrows in Parliament Square, to represent the 49 per cent of British fruit and vegetable farmers fear they are likely to go out of business in the next 12 months.
Disquiet amongst farmers was also addressed on this week’s Wheat from the Chaff podcast. Regular hosts, Phil Carson, UK Head of Policy for the Nature Friendly Farming Network, and 8.9 editor, ffinlo Costain, discussed the Parliamentary debate linked to the Riverford campaign.
Carson urged policy-makers to take action on issues of fairness in the supply chain so that real farming concerns did not become a gateway to fear, frustration and far right involvement.
He said, “This is an issue that isn’t going to go away. Whenever we bring in some of the challenges with food shortages, the impact of food inflation, and quite a frustrated farming population, we don’t have to look too far to see some of the issues with large-scale farmer protests in Europe that have been co-opted by far right organisations really capitalising on that frustration. It makes sense to look at this in a more systemic and long term way to try and avoid some of those things and head them off and provide a fairer return, because we risk some of the same issues coming to light here.”