Sir James spoke out on numerous issues affecting agriculture and food. Primarily, he believed intensive farming damaged public health, the environment and destabilised societies through urbanisation. He also gave prescient warnings about biotechnology and genetic engineering, calling also for reduced use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and pharmaceuticals such as hormones and antibiotics.
Food: Shortages, Sustainability and Health
In a 1974 speech to Food Manufacturers Federation Convention, Sir James forecast food shortages and criticised the Government of mismanaging the agricultural industry.
In 1976, he wrote to the British Nutrition Foundation pointing out that little research had been carried out into the long-term effects of the feed and chemicals pumped into intensively reared animals. More than a decade before Mad Cow disease struck British cattle, Sir James warned that ‘unnatural practices are creating products that differ more and more from their natural counterparts’. Later that year, he also spoke out about the need for sustainable dairy in UK.
“Whole populations are being uprooted from their traditional communities and chased into urban slums”.
Sir James believed many of the negative side effects of agricultural policy were linked to global free trade. In 1991, he spoke against the Common Agriculture Policy under the GATT proposal at the World Economic Forum, and again at the Royal Society in London. He also supported lobby groups in Britain and France.
Sir James claimed large mechanized farms, encouraged by government subsidies and designed to encourage maximum rather than optimum production, had altered the balance and character of society, and caused irreversible damage to the environment, rural and social traditions, and local industries.
Sir James instead believed the CAP’s purpose should be to maintain a stable rural population with a mix of various-sized farms, give special consideration to family farms, encourage a balanced level of production which would reduce surpluses, and replace artificial processes with environmentally-sound ones.