Saturday, 6 November 2010

A Friends of the Earth meeting at Swaffham Prior Village Hall: it was a bit better than the telly - just!

As a son of the soil and a lifetime friend of the earth, I thought that I ought to attend my first meeting of Friends of the Earth, especially as it was at Swaffham Prior Village Hall, a mere four miles from my home and in 'my' parish. Public transport being non-existent in Swaffham Prior Fen and it being wet for a Shanks's pony night out, I went by 'unsustainable' means - my car - and thinking that a suit would be unsuitable, I donned an old pair of cords and an equally old tweed jacket. There wasn't time to grow a beard and I couldn't find my sandals - besides, as I said, it was wet - so I bearded those present in 'neutral' clothes and 'sensible' shoes so as not to appear too out of place.

It transpired that the principal speaker was Mr Tony Juniper (above), the tireless eco-campaigner, friend of Charles Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (alias Windsor) and unsuccessful Green Party candidate for Cambridge.

The audience of about fifteen persons - at least four officials of the 'Friends,' two Liberal Democrat District Councillors and their spouses, myself and a handful of others mostly unknown to me - was shown a film about the clearing of forests in Brazil to grow soya beans and it was both interesting and somewhat horrifying in parts. The horrifying parts implied that people with what looked like tumours and/or livid rashes on their skins were the victims of pesticides used by the soya bean farmers. It was unfortunate that the chemicals mentioned in the commentary were glyphosate and paraquat, both widely-used herbicides. I pointed this out.

The meeting was intended to drum up public and Parliamentary support for a Private Member's measure called the 'Sustainable Livestock Bill' being promoted by Mr Rob Flello, M.P., and to be discussed in the House of Commons on the 12th of November. The Bill suggests 'producing linseed, beans and other crops to cut down on importing soya [beans] from South America, which is leading to the destruction of parts of the Amazon rainforest.' Mr Juniper emphasised that pigs in this country are being fed genetically modified soya as protein and that, consequently, pork eaters are effectively supporting forest clearance in Brazil. I pointed out that I had started keeping pigs nearly sixty years ago, that in those days the principal protein source for pigs was dried fish meal, further that I was of the opinion that it was probably preferable for pigs to eat GM soya and not the world's allegedly diminishing fish. Moreover, I said, aside from the doings of certain 'Tea Party' people in the United States, the use of GM foods in America for many years seemed to have had little ill effect. This point was also noted.

I also stated (others present did get a look-in, too) that the growing world population - nine billion people by the year 2050 was mentioned by Mr Juniper - was a very major problem, aggravated in the countries of South America by the teachings of the Catholic church. We had to be careful how we dealt with this as I had been criticised for drawing attention to it at an election meeting at Stretham, where a Catholic lady said that she had wanted to hit me (she didn't, in fact). Mr Juniper then commented, 'You'll like my new book.' I don't know what is in his new book but, presumably, he has had some sort of a dig at the Pope. This, if so, is intriguing, and it may conceivably mean that the heir to the throne has been persuaded after all to be 'Defender' of the faith of the pro-family-planning Protestant Church.

As others' questions soon ran out, I also raised one of my pet points. I said that I assumed that Mr Juniper and his colleagues were in favour of reducing this country's food imports. 'Yes.' I said that I assumed that they were in favour of British farmers growing a larger proportion of British food. 'Yes.' I then said that this didn't square with Mr Juniper's support (along with Charles Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, alias Windsor) of the vast expansion of the National Trust's Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve through buying up and letting go to waste thousands of acres of fine food-producing farm land including that in Swaffham Prior Fen. Mr Juniper responded by dodging the issue and then, as is his wont, wittering on about food waste. As the hour was getting late and as I had been given the impression that the organisers wanted to get to the pub, I let it go by saying that I opposed wasting food and also opposed wasting good farm land. At the conclusion of the meeting I remarked in a stage whisper that it had been 'better than the telly - just.'

As our M.P., Mr James Paice, the relevant farming and hunting minister in the ConDem government, was not with us, those who were present were requested to contact him about Mr Flello's Bill. I'll think about that.

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