The Good Fight of the Polish Farmers
In the week of February 12, all across Poland, thousands of farmers with tractors protested the right-wing Polish government’s planned farm legislation. Many were organized by the farmers’ arm of the Solidarność trade union organization. More than 150 tractors have blockaded the A2 motorway into Warsaw since February 3, hundreds more have closed roads and are picketing governmental offices in other regions. The farmers are vowing to continue the struggle until the government agrees to enter talks with the union and commit to addressing what they see as a crisis in Polish agriculture. And they are right.
ICPPC directors, Jadwiga Lopata and Julian Rose, joined more than 200 farmers at a Solidarity protest in Kielce, South East Poland. The actions represent a dramatic escalation of protests that have been taking place on a smaller scale across the country over the last year. Edward Kosmal, chairman of the farmers protest committee for West-Pomeranian Region said: “We are ready for dialogue. We look forward to meeting with you Prime Minister and beginning a comprehensive government commitment to solving the problems of Polish agriculture. If you do not enter into a dialogue with the Union, we would be forced to tighten our forms of protest.”
What is of vital importance are the demands of the farmers to the new government of Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz. They are four:
Land rights: implement regulation to prevent land-grabs by Western companies and to protect family farmers’ rights to land. Beginning 2016 the government plans to allow foreign buyers to buy Polish farmland for the first time.
Legalize direct sales of farm produce: the government must take action to improve farmers’ position in the market, including the adoption of a law enabling direct sales of processed and unprocessed farm products (Right now Poland has the most exclusionary policies in Europe around on-farm processing of food products and direct sales, making it impossible for family farmers to compete with bigger food companies. Oppressive ‘food hygiene’ and other regulations effectively prevent small scale farmers from selling their produce on-farm and in local markets, where their mostly organic but ‘uncertified’ produce is widely respected as of higher quality than food gown on modern industrial agribusiness farms.
Ban the cultivation and sale of Genetically Modified Organisms in Poland. A new EU rule passed in the European Parliament in January essentially leaves it up to national governments to permit GMO planting or not. Poland
Extend inheritance laws to include land under lease as a fully legal form of land use.
Defending honest agriculture
In an official statement Solidarność declared, “We demand a legal ban on GMO crops in Poland. The value of Polish agriculture, unique in Europe, is the unpolluted environment and high quality food production. That’s decisive concerning our competitiveness in global markets.”
Following a meeting with Poland’s Minister of Agriculture, Marek Sawicki, on February 11, the protesting farmers widened their protest to demand Sawicki’s resignation when he refused point blank to entertain any change of policy. Significantly, the protesting farmers, who vowed to bring 100,000 to the streets of Warsaw in the next days to continue the pressure, claimed the Polish government was spending money on senseless aid to Ukraine that should in fact be going into supporting Poland’s agriculture. The farmer protests to date are the largest and longest in modern Polish history.
At stake is more than the survival of small family farmers in Poland. Aside from the soils of Russia and of Ukraine, Poland is one of the few places in Europe with highest quality soil that has not been destroyed by massive dosages of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Ukraine’s rich agriculture land, as part of the rape of the country by the IMF and western agribusiness will soon be sold off for the first time to foreign corporations like Monsanto, Cargill, ADM and others where cultivation of GMO crops will proceed unhindered. That makes the battle for Poland’s farm culture even more vital to the future of food security in Europe.
Poland’s “pro-business” government is eager to lure foreign agribusiness giants into the country, something the Polish farmers know well will destroy them as well as the high-quality traditional Polish family farm. Already, Smithfield Farms of the USA, the world’s biggest pig producer, bought Poland’s Animex SA in 1999. Smithfield now runs a string of 16 or more huge hog farms where conditions have been described as “horrendous.” With growing environmental pollution pressures in the US against the massive fecal pollution of its factory farms that typically house tens of thousands of hogs in tight cages until they are slaughtered, Smithfield has sought countries where pollution laws are more lax such as Mexico.
As well, Aviagen, one of the world’s largest industrial factory farm producers of chickens, has moved into Poland. Their German parent company, PHW Group of Lower Saxony and its daughter, Lohmann/Aviagen Cuxhaven, were fined for massive violations of the German animal welfare protection laws in their facilities where day-old chicklings are run on assembly belts in the thousands, sorted, thrown out, feet cut off, others run through meat grinding machines live with feathers.
Such is the nature of agribusiness today, a project of the Harvard Business School and the Rockefeller Foundation begun in the USA in the 1950’s to do to agriculture what the Rockefellers did to oil—create a global agribusiness cartel of a handful of companies so powerful they run over national health and food safety laws with impunity.
The new laws that are slated to take effect in 2016 would open Poland’s doors wide to destruction of one of the highest-quality food production in Europe. That would be a ridiculous thing. Indeed, Poland’s NATO-loyal Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister are rather stupid.
With neighbor Ukraine about to destroy the rich soils of Ukraine by allowing Monsanto and western agribusiness to rape the land with their chemicals like glyphosate and GMO, if Poland’s government goes ahead as they say, Russia stands to be the big winner in the long term.
On February 4 the Russian Government submitted a bill to Parliament that would ban cultivation and breeding of genetically modified organisms (GMO). The bill bans “the cultivation and breeding of genetically modified plants and animals on the territory of the Russian Federation, except for the use in expertise and scientific research.” Further, importers of GMOs would have to register and the government would be enabled to prohibit the import of such products to Russia after monitoring their effects on humans and the environment.