Can We Trust the Soil Association?

Oswald Mosley, Hitler and the Biodynamic Movement

In the 1970s and 80s environmental scientists were building crude, but essentially worthwhile, models concerning global warming, biodiversity, energy supply, consumer economics and population to try and ascertain the long-term viability of the human species on our planet. In addition, popular green books such as Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’, E. F Schumacher’s ‘Small is Beautiful’ and James Lovelock’s & Lynn Margulis’ ‘Gaia’ all contributed to popularising what was then called the Environmental Movement and is now part of the international effort to respond to climate change, global food supply, peak oil, polluted seas, our rapidly diminishing area of natural habitats and our over-stretched fresh water supply.

In those days in the UK, the Soil Association, though part of the older and somewhat mystical tradition of organic farming was, like the rest of us, involved in the green endeavour; looking for the reliable science behind our approximate models and partially developed theses. At so many of the conferences I attended and contributed to in the mid 1980s through to the mid 1990s, there was a largely unwritten but often explicit code between the scientists and the mystics; we didn’t really mind too much if some ideas were inspired by spirituality as long as those ideas checked out scientifically. This was not a flippant or ill-considered position; both sides knew that the ideas that would be most readily accepted would need both poetic appeal and scientific validity. We considered then that these issues were of tremendous importance and we have proved to be correct; only the climate change sceptics and those that deny the finite nature of our resources think we are wrong. Science, as ever, is sorting the woo from the reality and we are gradually getting to grips with the nature of the systems involved and what needs to be achieved to keep things stable.

As the oldest and most respected organic farming institution in the world, the UK’s Soil Association was very much involved. We all knew that the organisation had a vaguely mystical past but we were also hopeful that the unwritten compact would be kept. Yes, by all means keep your spirituality but let action, and reasons for the promotion of such action, be scientifically sound. But, since the mid 1990s, things have gone horribly wrong.

The Soil Association, a model for similar organic certification bodies internationally and with an influence far beyond the borders of the UK, has thrown out science and returned to its mystical roots. In charge of a £2 billions market in the UK and affecting the policies of a world-wide market for organic foods worth around $52 billions, The Soil Association is one of the most influential international organisations for food production outside of the Big Ag industrial sector.

Why this matters is that many in the agricultural industry, and in the wider environmental science community, are realising that the science is taking us towards the view that a combination of proven organic methods, genetically modified crops and a more judicious use of  synthetic fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides might take the ‘Green Revolution’ to the next phase; lowering soil erosion, vastly improving the energy ratio and efficiency of food production, reducing pollution, reducing water use and increasing biodiversity. If we are to feed a population of perhaps up to 12 billion people over the next few decades, we will need to go in that general direction. The exact combinations of the proposed methods are being researched for different climates across the globe but it is becoming increasingly clear that a mixed approach is required: pure organic agriculture simply won’t provide enough without perfect politics and perfect distribution while Big Ag has proved to be an environmental disaster and, anyway, needs more oil than might be available in future decades. But currently The Soil Association is entirely opposed to what science is telling us and is promoting, of all things, Biodynamics.

Biodynamics is a bogus system of agriculture that has taken basic organic methods and overlaid its own mystical tradition. In itself, that is not too much of a worry since the organic methods work regardless. But Biodynamics is not just organics plus innocent woo, it is based on a profoundly racist philosophy called Anthroposophy invented by Rudolph Steiner. Had I known in the 1980s of the Soil Association’s long history of Anthroposophy and the true nature of Biodynamics I would have written about it then. To my shame, I’ve only discovered the true extent of the Steiner machine fairly recently.

For the past 15 years, since 1995, the Director of the Soil Association has been a Biodynamic farmer named Patrick Holden. 

Patrick Holden was brought up in London. He visited a dairy farm near Epping aged five and decided he wanted to milk cows. He studied biodynamic agriculture at Emerson College in 1972 and started a community farm in West Wales in 1973.

 http://www.soilassociation.org/Aboutus/Whoweare/Director/tabid/68/Default.aspx

Though due to retire from the Soil Association later this year, it is extraordinary that for the last 15 years there has been little in the press about Holden’s philosophic, and thus political, inclinations. But perhaps old news is never deemed interesting and the Soil Associations’ association with Biodynamics is old indeed.

According to the Soil Association:

The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by a group of far-sighted individuals who were concerned about the health implications of increasingly intensive agricultural systems following the Second World War. Their principle concerns were:

  • The loss of soil through erosion and depletion
  • Decreased nutritional quality of intensively produced food
  • Exploitation of animals in intensive units
  • Impact of large intensive farming system on the countryside and wildlife

http://www.soilassociation.org/Aboutus/Ourhistory/tabid/70/Default.aspx

To give you an idea of what is at stake, let’s look at some of these ‘far-sighted’ individuals. The fact that their names are not publicised is not surprising; for while some seem perfectly respectable, others are certainly not. Many scholars site Lady Eve Balfour as the leading founder of the Soil Association and, according to her 1977 address ‘Towards a Sustainable Agriculture’ given to an IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) conference in Switzerland:

I do not know where or when the ideas that have brought us together here were first called a movement, but I have little doubt that the main inspiration derived from the work of the early research pioneers in the first quarter of this century, though this is not to discount the influence of one of the most important, who was even earlier, namely Rudolf Steiner.

http://journeytoforever.org/farm_library/balfour_sustag.html

It is not clear the extent to which Lady Balfour believed in Steiner herself from the transcript but Steiner was clearly held in some reverence by her as no critical views were offered. Indeed:

A substance may be the same chemically but very different as a conductor of living energy. The hypothesis is that the energy manifesting in birth, growth, reproduction, death, decay and rebirth, can only flow through channels composed of living cells, and that when the flow is interrupted by inert matter it can be short-circuited with consequent damage to some part of the food-chain, not necessarily where the block occurred. The Anthroposophical Society’s research establishment at Dornach in this country (Switzerland) has provided some evidence in support of such a view.

http://journeytoforever.org/farm_library/balfour_sustag.html

Another of the founder members was Jorian Jenks who according to the Soil Association’s Facebook page:

One of the founders of the Soil Association, was Jorian Jenks, a former member of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), closely associated with Oswald Mosley. Jenks was for years the editorial secretary of the Association’s journal (“Mother Earth”) and indeed, the early days of the Association in the late 40s saw the involvement of the far-right and even antisemitic elements, remnants of the defunct BUF with Association’s driving ideas as much political (far-right) as much as ecological. Following Jenks’ death in 1963, the Association tilted towards the left of the political spectrum, especially under the new president of the Association, Barry Commoner.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Soil-Association/105542389479699?v=desc

But if, as the Facebook page says, the Association has “tilted towards the left”, why has the Director for the last 15 years been an admirer of far-right Anthroposophy? The Oswald Mosley website says of Jenks:

Graduating from Oxford and serving in World War 1, Jenks later held many important farming appointments in England and New Zealand. It was an experience he put at the disposal of British Union as Agricultural Advisor and active campaigner on the behalf of British farmers and farm workers.

But Jenks was now working to influence a wider sphere. With Derek Stuckley and other former British Union members, he joined the Rural Reconstruction Association to research, develop and propagate the principles of good husbandry. He was also a founder member of the Soil Association and was editor of its journal, “Mother Earth”, which pioneered the organic movement. (It was at about this time when he met Walter Darre, the German ex food and farming minister who did much work on the same lines during the Hitler years in the 1930’s.)”

http://www.oswaldmosley.com/jorian-jenks.htm

 But Jenks’ colleague, Walter Darre, was not simply a food minister under Hitler:

In 1931 the foremost anthroposophist journal published a positive review by Karutz of Walther Darré’s book Neuadel aus Blut und Boden (‘A New Nobility out of Blood and Soil’). Darré, a leading “racial theorist” and pre-eminent figure in the Nazis’ green wing, was soon to become Minister of Agriculture under Hitler. This cozy relationship with major Nazi officials paid off for Steiner’s followers once the party took command of Germany. According to numerous anthroposophist accounts of this period, the Nazis hounded the Steinerites from the beginning of the Third Reich. But this self-serving tale is incompatible with the historical record.

The Weleda factories, on the other hand, continued to operate throughout the war and even received state contracts. In fact Weleda supplied naturopathic materials for ‘medical experiments’ (i.e. torture) on prisoners at Dachau.36 Weleda’s head gardener, Franz Lippert, was an SS member who in 1941 asked to be transferred to Dachau to oversee the biodynamic plantation that Himmler had established at the concentration camp. Thus anthroposophist collaboration with Nazi barbarism persisted until the bitter end of the Third Reich.

http://www.openwaldorf.com/anthroposophyandecofascism.pdf

What we have here is one of many records of the far-right origins of the Soil Association and of its history of Anthroposophical racism and mysticism. If the Soil Association had an ounce of ethical stature it would have had many pages on its website explaining and denouncing its history; it would have, years ago, severed all ties with Anthroposophy and its vile racist ideology. But, instead, it is returning to its old ways. Not only can we not trust it politically, we can not trust it scientifically either. Here is a taste of Biodynamic ‘theory’ from the writings of Rudolf Steiner:

Everything that lives in the silicious nature contains forces which comes not from the Earth but from the so-called distant planets, the planets beyond the Sun — Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. That which proceeds from these distant plants influences the life of plants via the silicious and kindred substances into the plant and also into the animal life of the Earth. On the other hand, from all that is represented by the planets near the Earth — Moon, Mercury and Venus — forces work via the limestone and kindred substances. Thus we may say, for every tilled field: Therein are working the silicious and the limestone natures; in the former, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars; and in the latter, Moon, Venus and Mercury

http://www.rsarchive.org/Search.php

There are thousands upon thousands of such ludicrous paragraphs in the Steiner archives. As woo, it is reprehensible but it is not just any old woo. Because, in Steiner’s schema, it is the spiritual nature of the farmer that makes the difference in addition to the (bogus) Anthroposophical ‘science’: 

Now whether it be man or any other living being, the living being must always be permeated by an ethereal — for the ethereal is the true bearer of life, as we have often emphasised. This, therefore, which represents the carbonaceous framework of a living entity, must in its turn be permeated by an ethereal. The latter will either stay still — holding fast to the beams of the framework — or it will also be involved in more or less fluctuating movement. In either case, the ethereal must be spread out, wherever the framework is. Once more, there must be something ethereal wherever the framework is. Now this ethereal, if it remained alone, could certainly not exist as such within our physical and earthly world. It would, so to speak, always slide through into the empty void. It could not hold what it must take hold of in the physical, earthly world, if it had not a physical carrier.

 Later, in the same lecture (Lecture 3, 11th June 1924) he goes on to say

Think of a simple peasant-farmer, one whom your scholar will certainly not deem to be a learned man. There he is, walking out over his fields. The peasant is stupid —so the learned man will say. But in reality it is not true, for the simple reason that the peasant —forgive me, but it is so — is himself a meditator. Oh, it is very much that he meditates in the long winter nights! He does indeed acquire a kind of method — a method of spiritual perception. Only he cannot express it. It suddenly emerges in him. We go through the fields, and all of a sudden the knowledge is there in us. We know it absolutely. Afterwards we put it to the test and find it confirmed. I in my youth, at least, when I lived among the peasant folk, could witness this again and again. It really is so, and from such things as these we must take our start once more. The merely intellectual life is not sufficient — it can never lead into these depths. We must begin again from such things. After all, the weaving life of Nature is very fine and delicate. We cannot sense it — it eludes our coarse-grained intellectual conceptions. Such is the mistake science has made in recent times. With coarse-grained, wide-meshed intellectual conceptions it tries to apprehend things that are far more finely woven.

Above two paragraphs: http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/Agri1958/19240611p01.html

Steiner’s view that farming is a spiritual activity as well as a practical one has become an attractive proposition for a great many New Age proponents even if it means that millions might starve due to inadequate and misleading information about soil science. But not only does the ‘real’ farmer have to believe in this socially elitist and divisive rubbish, the hierarchy of spiritual worth suggested by Steiner is disgusting:

One can only understand history and all of social life, including today’s social life, if one pays attention to people’s racial characteristics. And one can only understand all that is spiritual in the correct sense if one first examines how this spiritual element operates within people precisely through the color of their skin. 

Steiner, Vom Leben des Menschen und der Erde (GA 349), Dornach 1980, p. 52. The quote is from 1923.

And if that is not enough to put you off Biodynamics and it’s Anthroposophical ‘philosophy’ then perhaps this often quoted passage will:

On the one hand there is the black race, which is the most earthly. When this race goes toward the West, it dies out. Then there is the yellow race, in the middle between the earth and the cosmos. When this race goes toward the East, it turns brown, it attaches itself too much to the cosmos and dies out. The white race is the race of the future, the spiritually creative race.

http://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/steiners-racism

In essence, believers in Biodynamics think they are racially and spiritually superior and not subject to rational criticism or the humilities of scientific rigour. Such conceits are completely at odds with the necessary functions of a body responsible for overseeing the accreditation of organic farms and products and the provision of verifiable, reliable and scientifically valid information.

One defense often used by Biodynamic farmers, and by the Anthroposophical Waldorf and Steiner Schools, is that modern interpretations of the Steiner creed are pro-science and anti-racist. If that were the case then they would have no problem dropping the Biodynamic, Steiner, Waldorf and Anthroposophical tags, titles and cultural references and disassociating themselves from the movement altogether. But that is one move that they are not prepared to make. There are, of course, many Biodynamic farmers who claim a lack of interest in these subjects and might well have no idea that the label they carry and promote represents such vile ideas. If so, perhaps the Biodynamic hierarchy, claiming that modernisation and reform is integral to their mission, might educate them about the racist ideologies inherent in the creed and how to disassociate themselves. Naturally, no such mechanism is apparent and, besides, how might they explain such a reformist position to a non-white colleague?

In my view, such ideas and scientific nonsense are beyond reform; take mysticism and racism out of the Anthroposophical world view and there is nothing left attributable to Steiner.

There is also the question of whether or not the Soil Association should be allowed to wield such influence when they are, anyway, primarily a marketing operation. As Grace Gershuny points out in relation to the United States National Organic Programme, 

Marketing programs are generally there for the benefit of the regulated industry, not as watchdogs to stop them from harming the public. Established players want to tighten their standards to limit competition by potential new entrants. It has nothing to do with protecting consumer interests, and works against consumers by maintaining high prices and limited supply for products that may not be demonstrably superior. For example, spotless apples that meet cosmetic standards as “fancy” may still be drenched in pesticides, and milk from a cow that was treated with antibiotics when she was a calf cannot be distinguished from milk from a cow has never been treated with antibiotics (as required under the NOP), if other factors such as feed quality are the same. Marketers point to consumer preferences for qualities that the marketers themselves have told them they should prefer. Tighter organic standards also do nothing to protect the environment or improve product safety. Tighter rules mostly serve to create more paper work, a bigger obstacle for small operations than for large players, who are accustomed to meeting bureaucratic requirements and have paid compliance staffs.

http://www.social-ecology.org/2009/03/are-the-best-organic-standards-the-toughest-organic-standards-why-the-activists-got-it-wrong/

Finally, note the precise wording of this advertisement for Biodynamics on the Soil Association website:

Are you a farmer or grower who has wondered what biodynamics involves? Have you suspected there may be more to agriculture than simply manipulating natural science? Are you looking to improve the potential of your organic system? Biodynamics works more closely and consciously with natural rhythms and enables the producer to draw closer to nature while raising crops and animals of distinctive quality.

These one-day workshops are being offered at several biodynamic venues to help people living in different parts of the country but also to offer a range of practical context. They are intended to open doors and help you towards developing your professional path – we hope you will find one which you can attend.

Cost £50 (or £45 With early booking discount). For further details, full programmes and booking forms visit www.biodynamic.org.uk  or call .

http://www.soilassociation.org/Farmersgrowers/Trainingevents/tabid/668/vw/3/ItemID/40/d/20100707/Default.aspx

The phrase:

“They are intended to open doors and help you towards developing your professional path – we hope you will find one which you can attend.”

 is especially revealing. The inference is that, without the Biodynamic tag, doors will not be opened. Sadly, in my experience that tends to be true. 

From it’s complete opposition to GM, regardless of how tightly regulated or beneficial GM might be, to its firm support of Biodynamics, The Soil Association is not now, and perhaps never was, fit for purpose.

Nick Nakorn

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About Nick Nakorn

This is the blog of a concerned citizen.
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14 Responses to Can We Trust the Soil Association?

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  2. Graham S says:

    Another fascinating and insightful analysis Nick. This is such important work you are doing.
    I didnt realize there were such close connections between Weleda and Nazism, a shocking story.
    Anthroposophy represents an attack on science but is it from the Left or the Right? Maybe at the end of the day it amounts to the same thing. The more I think about it, the more impossible it seems it is to separate any kind of nature mysticism from these ideologies. Liberal “post-modern” ideas of “spirituality” and reverence for nature become merged with fascism.
    You have shown the Organics movement is inseparable from Biodynamics; I hope the same is not true of permaculture, although it seems everywhere I look there also I see the nutty practices and dangerous ideas of Steiner being advocated, if not actively promoted .
    This neednt be the case- permaculture never had its origins in far-Right ideologies. All free-thinking permaculturalists should speak out against BD now before the usefulness of permaculture becomes completely lost.

  3. Nick Nakorn says:

    Dear Graham,

    many thanks for your comments and the useful pingback. I think that Permaculturalists might be in a very difficult position if the Permaculture ‘brand’ is taken over by Biodynamics. Because Biodynamics has become a ‘premium brand’, due to the assumption by both advocate growers and their retail customers that the system is ‘organic’ but better, a hierarchy is being established in which, in some sectors, plain ‘organic’ and ‘Permaculture’ are becoming notional subsets of Biodynamics. This is not helped at all by some Permaculture teachers (not you, I know) being happy to accommodate a certain amount of Anthroposophic spirituality in their teaching as long as the Permaculture training is passed on.

    I think there are three things that can be done; the first is to encourage Permaculture growers and teachers to emphasise the scientific base of their work and to be clear about the evidence (or lack of evidence) where necessary.

    The second is to ensure that the most senior and experienced people in Permaculture (world wide) make public statements distancing themselves from Biodynamics.

    The third is to encourage as much peer-reviewed research into the effectiveness of Permaculture as possible and to continually update practice in the light of evidence. If the scientific base for Permaculture is at all shaky then opposing biodynamics on the grounds that it is not scientific will be impossible.

    I think those three actions would make a considerable difference. If, in a few years time, there is an almost seamless merger between ‘organic’, Permaculture’ and ‘Biodynamic’, then the take over of non-big-ag by Anthroposophy will be complete and I’m worried that that is a strategy being followed by those in charge of Anthroposophy; the future for Transition Towns will also be in jeopardy.

    Finally, after a frustrating set of posts at Ben Goldacre’s ‘Bad Science’, it has become clear that many who abhor the scientific ‘woo’ of Biodynamics feel it unnecessary to denounce Anthroposophy as a whole as they think it is an old, long forgotten and historical creed and thus need not be denounced; I think my objections are viewed as a conspiracy theory mixed with a smear campaign. In a few weeks I will be posting a longish (well, long, I suppose) piece about structural racism in the hope that the continuing negative effects of Anthroposophy are better understood.

    Best wishes,

    Nick

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  7. John says:

    I’m pretty tired so I hope I can form a coherent response to this post. I think you are trying to sum up a number of theories, a number of people, countries, organizations, a lot of history, in such a brief way that it can’t be accurate. The political atmosphere of Europe before WWII was very complex and very different.

    Nation and state are two different concepts. Not long ago, it was completely normal to define nation as having an integral, ethno-cultural dimension. Many also believed race was not just biological, but a spiritual taxonomy.

    Yes, everything to do with Steiner is New Age woo. Aside from Rene Guenon and Julius Evola, esotericism is utter nonsense that should be destroyed.

    Darre’s Blood and Soil theories were used by the Third Reich to garner support but it was ultimately something that they, esp Hitler, did not embrace at all.

    But you are really throwing a lot out in relation to authentic conservatism. I would guess you are plainly ignorant this, which is understandable considering post-WWII paleoconservatives were literally killed or imprisoned by the thousands across Europe. I would challenge you to even develop a wikipedia level understanding of The Conservative Revolution era, Radical Traditionalism, Perennialism, Paleoconservatism, and The European Nouvelle Droite / New Right. There are political stances to be taken beyond our modern era of splitting hairs between fetishized versions of atomized individualism and totalitarian humanism.

    I personally believe that the far right is very relevant. Ethno-nationalism is relevant. Agrarianism is relevant. Nations have the right to cultural and political difference. This is authentic anti-globalization.

    I see you are posting about Occupy. In my country, the U.S., they complain loudly about the banks and want measures such as a increased federal minimum wage, universal healthcare, etc. Is complaining about banks effectively not a euphemism for “the Jews”, and further could their social policies not be loosely termed ‘national socialism’ ? Alot of this stuff goes full circle. At this point (as your comment above elaborates perfectly) Permaculture IS new age woo– whether intentional or not its a community that is effectively anti-scientific. In line with your reasoning above, I should throw out permaculture and the occupy movement.

    I’m having trouble coming up with prominently placed references to biodynamic on The Soil Association official website.

    Why do liberals prefer making utopian projections over facing the realities of overpopulation, ecocide, peak-name-any-resource, actual population control measures, and implementing eugenic measures that are strongly backed by science?

    Clearly, I could ramble on but I doubt you’ll even read down this far.

    • Just an opinion thats all I might change it tommorow, however Steiner and Evola are very similar when it comes to the esoteric, from the little that Ive read. Much of Steiner and just read he grail mysteries by Evola. Its actually the first of his works I have read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m sure I read somewhere that he was a follower of Steiner according to Italian police reports in 1930. For me Steiner is feck all to do with the new age, but deals with all ages,and is a great link to the past in Europe and the world, in a very detailed manner. Possibly a little flowery for the domineering, however I’m secure lol. Julius Evola basically covered the same material Steiner covers, in that book. So thus far for me they much in common when it comes to the esoteric.

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