Guy's news: Our reluctant but noble organic Lord

farm & tractor

Peter Melchett, the reluctant but eminently noble Lord, environmental campaigner, and woolly-jumpered organic farmer, died last week. He had been policy director at the Soil Association for 17 years, having previously headed Greenpeace UK and been a Labour minister in the 1970s. It is hard to imagine anyone, whatever their politics, not being won over by his humanity, good will and charm; these, combined with his patient persistence and attention to detail, made him a fantastic campaigner who will be greatly missed. We didn’t always agree, but he invariably had research on his side, and time normally proved him right. I will miss the unfailing humility which ensured that, for all his charm, the issue always came first. If only privilege more often came with his modesty, and his sense of responsibility to the planet and its current and future inhabitants. As a vegetarian livestock farmer, he was also one of our most appreciative veg box customers and a loyal patron of our London pub The Duke of Cambridge.

To what degree does the end justify the means? If your cause is just and well researched, does its pursuit justify dogma-based evidence selection and manipulative presentation? There is no right answer; in the shouty, impatient world we live in, purity counts for little and everyone must make their own judgement as to acceptable compromise. I think Peter Melchett consistently got it right; he didn’t always go for the headline, but was sufficiently canny to be effective while commanding lasting respect. It was his analysis of the GM industry that kept me campaigning on the issue, long after feeling compromised by the sometimes extreme views and actions of the antis. As I was mounting a legal challenge to a local GM maize trial, Peter, as head of Greenpeace UK, went one step further and spent a brief time in jail for destroying a GM crop. Long may his campaigning spirit remain with us.

This is being typed on a ferry back from my farm in the Vendée, led into Plymouth by a pod of dolphins. After a wet spring and a weed-ridden start to the season, we are now seeing some good late crops. Peppers, aubergine and physalis are all doing well, our best ever crop of borlotti beans will be on sale for another month; their flavour and texture is great in salads.

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