Prince Charles, the Future of Food and Algae

by Dr. Mark Edwards

Prince Charles has advocated sustainable agriculture with less dependence on fossil resources for over 30 years. He shared his insights in a keynote address at the Georgetown University Future of Food Conference in May 2011. He conveyed his motivation as:

I have no intention of being confronted by my grandchildren, demanding to know why on earth we didn’t do something about the many problems that existed when we knew what was going wrong. The threat of that question, the responsibility of it is precisely why I have gone on challenging the assumptions of our day. And I would urge you, if I may, to do the same because we need to face up to asking whether how we produce our food is actually fit for purpose in the very challenging circumstances of the twenty-first century.

We must take care of the earth that sustains us because if we don’t do that; if we do not work within nature’s system, then nature will fail to be the durable continuously sustaining force she has always been. Only by safeguarding nature’s resilience, can we hope to have a resilient form of food production and insure food security in the long term. This, then, is the challenge facing us.

Prince Charles provided evidence of scarcity and unsustainability for each of the fossil resources required to produce industrial foods. He advocates for genuinely sustainable agriculture for the long term that replenishes soil and water, is not dependent upon the use of chemical pesticides, fungicides and insecticides nor artificial fertilizers, growth promoters or GE monocultures. He notes that we must reduce the use of those substances that are dangerous and harmful, not only to human health but to the health of those natural systems such as the oceans, forests and wetlands.

He reports that yield increases for staple food crops are declining from 3% in the 1960s to less than 1% today. For the first time, yield increases are less than the rate of population growth. Yields are suffering in Africa, China and India, where crops are failing to cope with ever-increasing temperatures and fluctuating rainfall. Yield failures have caused the cost of food to skyrocket. Set against these threats to yields is the ever-growing demand for food. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that the demand will rise by 70% by 2050.

Prince Charles recognizes that food production concentrated in large farms distant from consumers puts our food supply in jeopardy. A single weather or geological event could destroy large food supplies. In addition, with increasing fuel scarcity and cost, long distance food transportation will not be possible. He advocates a more resilient system were many smaller growers produce food close to consumers. He notes “…strengthening small farm production could be a major force in preserving the traditional knowledge and biodiversity that we lose at our peril.”

He cited the impeccably well researched International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, IAASTD, conducted in 2008 by the U.N. The report, co-chaired by Professor Hans Herren, drew on evidence from more than four hundred scientists worldwide and concluded that small scale, family-based farming systems adopting so-called agri-ecological approaches were among the most productive systems in developing countries.

Industrial Agriculture

Prince Charles notes that the industrialized food system receives accolades and subsidies even though it is unfit for purpose because it is deeply dependent on fossil fuels and chemical treatments. Sustainable organic production is rubbished and condemned as unfit for purpose. He observes that big agribusinesses drive agricultural policy to reward themselves—at the expense of family farmers. Consumers are fooled by apparently cheap food because they do not understand the cost of subsidies. He points out that, under the current inherently unsustainable system in the developed world, we actually throw away approximately 40% of the food we have bought. When food does not reflect its real cost, consumers waste food.

Less than 3% of the food sold in the U.S. is organic, due to the difficulty in making sustainable farming more profitable for producers and sustainable food more affordable for consumers. Prince Charles created an International Sustainability Unit to study why sustainable food production systems struggle to make a profit, and why intensively produced food costs less. The ISU study reveals two reasons – subsidies and accounting. The U.S. system of farm subsidies overwhelmingly favors those kinds of agriculture techniques that are responsible for the many problems associated with industrial agriculture. In addition, the cost of ecosystem damage is not reflected in the price of food production. When fertilizers and pesticides pollute the water supply, the water must be cleaned up at enormous cost. Those costs are paid in water bills, not food costs. The primary polluter is not charged. Air, water and soil polluters are not charged for their social cost. Foolish subsidies and failure to create pollution policies have led to a situation where farmers are better off using intensive methods that are unsustainable and extremely pollutive.

Consumers who would prefer to buy sustainably produced food are unable to do so because of the price or availability. There are many producers and consumers who want to do the right thing. As things stand, growers are penalized for doing the right thing. Price Charles recommends re-examining the U.S. food subsidies. He recommends that subsidies be redirected to benefit sustainable systems. Shifting subsidies would be a more honest form of accounting and make it more desirable for producers to operate sustainably.

Food Waste

The U.S. needs a Secretary of Agriculture with the courage to redirect subsidies and show the real cost of food, including extraction, health impacts and pollution. We also need research, development, demonstration and diffusion of freedom foods. Freedom foods provide sustainable and affordable local food and energy production. Freedom foods offer an alternative food supply that follows the path recommended by Prince Charles.

Freedom foods
Freedom foods reinvent our food supply from the foundation of the food chain and liberate consumers to make smart choices for healthier, delicious food. Food grown low on the food chain free us from the consumption, waste and pollution caused by modern industrial foods. These foods are clean, healthy, nutrient dense and low in fat and cholesterol. They offer twice the protein of food grains as well as higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Consumers do not have free choice today because freedom foods are not widely available yet.

Freedom foods enable:

  • Healthy foods that moderate obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
  • Natural and clean foods, low in fat and cholesterol.
  • Nutrient dense foods with superior aroma, taste and texture.
  • Naturally biodiverse foods that are fresh and grown locally.
  • Fossil-free foods that preserve natural resources for our children.
  • Growing systems that create excellent local jobs for abundance microfarmers.
  • New food production that cleans and repairs our ecosystems.
  • Foods that produce reliably, independent of climate, weather, or geography.

Freedom foods empower growers and consumers to eat healthy food and leave the ecological footprint of a butterfly. Freedom foods represent the first new form of agriculture in 60 years.