Is Biodynamic Farming Vegan?

Biodynamic farming is seen as the ‘more organic than organic’ method of sustainable farming.

It is not. Biodynamics is the method of farming proposed by occultist Rudolf Steiner, who created the crypto-religious movement of Anthroposophy based his clairvoyant visions and a racist view of human development, reincarnation, karma, astrology, homeopathy and gnomes.

People who want to get into  progressive farming these days are driven by concerns of health, taste, animal welfare and low environmental impact.

In contrast, the philosophy of Biodynamic farming is driven by concerns of working with the spirit world and life forces in order to produce food with good karma. If it has good envirnonmental consequences then it is accidental.

Nonetheless, Biodynamics is presented by its marketing arm, the Demeter Association as ‘actively contributing toward the shaping of a future worth living for, creating healthy foods of distinctive tastes, truly “Foods with Character”‘

But just as with the educational and banking Anthroposophical wings, Biodynamics tends not to be upfront about its beliefs, aims and methods.

I have in front of me the 2012 Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar. It is not the sort of gardening book you might expect. It mostly consists of astrological tables, showing the positions of the Moon, stars and planets and telling me when it is allowable to plant and harvest various crops depending on these heavenly variables.

For those of us in the UK wondering about out awful rainy weather, we are told that August will have Mars and Saturn remaining in the ‘cold constellation of Virgo’, Mercury is supported by the watery influence of Uranus in Pisces, and that “Pluto in Sagittarius may bring some warmth”. And August is a good month ‘ash ants in houses’. That is, burn the little buggers to prevent more coming back.

A central feature of Biodynamics is the creation of various ‘dynamized’ manures. These are ritualised recipes, often using animal skulls, dung, and other ingredients buried for months, to create magical concoctions that capture the life forces needed for plants. My Almanac tells me in great detailhow to create ‘Barrel Preparation’ from cow manure, eggshells, sand and a wooden barrel. I have to dowse where to place my barrel so that it does not lie on a force field and make sure I mix it all up when the Moon is in Leo or Virgo. Ten litres of the resultant gunk can have magical properties on half an acre of land – as long as I stir within a cylindrical container with proportions of 2 to 3 in width and height and spray at dusk.

Naturally, this barmpottery has been embraced with gusto by Prince Charles at his Highgrove estate and Home Farm. Biodynamics was also embraced at Dachau during the Second World War. Indeed, the academic, Peter Staudenmaier, has written about how Steiner’s environmental beliefs were not some kind of humanist worldview, but were actually blatantly racist and  “suitable only for a spiritually enlightened elite”.  Anthroposophy, according to  Staudenmaier, “had a powerful practical influence on the so-called “green wing” of German fascism”, and that the “mix of mysticism, romanticism, and pseudo-environmentalist concerns propagated by Steiner  brought anthroposophy into close ideological contact with a grouping that has been described as the green wing of National Socialism”.

Biodynamics only still carries the associations of being “progressive, tolerant, enlightened and ecological” because Anthroposophic philosophy is highly esoteric and its true origins and doctrines are only discussed within an inner initiated group. Outside of the blue card carrying “First Class” members of Anthroposophy, all such associations with its darker roots are systematically obfuscated.

So, to answer my question, is Biodynamics vegan? Although biodynamic farming covers both livestock and agricultural practice, use of animal products on plants happens in quite a bizarre way. Steiner was heavily influenced by that other barmpot, the German doctor who invented homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemnan. Homeopathy says that ‘like cures like’. A poison that can give you a headache, can cure a headache if given in micropscopic, or even non-existant, doses. Steiner adapted this to getting rid of ‘disease’ on the farm. By sacrificing and burning pests and then adding them to the fields, you can eliminate everything from slugs to mice.

 

So, what are we to make of Biodynamics? If you are interested in animal welfare, low-impact and progressive farming, and care that approaches should be basedon reason and evidence, then Biodynamics should not be for you. Its chief concerns are spiritual, religious and romantic. If its practices converge with progressive farm practices, then that is by accident. Most importantly, Biodynamics is based on the infallible clairvoyant revelations of Rudolf Steiner, and as such, is immutable to change as new ideas come along. That is the exact opposite of sustainability.

Organic farming practices share a common heritage with Biodynamics. Most absurd beliefs have been shed, although, most noticeably, a commitement to using homeopathy on animals still remains. That makes it unethical as far as I am concerned. But more insidiously, the romantic notion of being spiritually connected with nature and the rejection of science still haunts modern Organic farming.

As Monty Don,  President of the Soil Association, said to Simon Singh recently in response to some straightforward questions about yields from Organic farms and the justification for using homeopathy,

If that looks as though I am dodging your questions then so be it – and in a way I am because they are not sensible out of the context of the much bigger picture and I hate the idea of point scoring on something as important as this.

Having known you for nigh on 20 years – albeit with great gaps – I suspect that you are as temperamentally and intellectually suited to immersing yourself in organic, holistic agriculture as I am in particle physics. Your mind just doesnt work that way. That does not make you wrong or me right. Well,OK, I am just being polite but it doesn’t make you bad for being wrong…

His response carries the esotericism and elitism instilled by Steiner in his Biodynamic farmers. Somehow, if you want to understand the justifications for organic practices, you have to see ‘beyond science’. This is straight Steinerism and his “Occult Science” – the belief that science has to be extended through special elitist insights, available to the few, and unquestionable by the uninitiated.

46 comments for “Is Biodynamic Farming Vegan?

  1. July 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    Bugger. I wish I’d known all this a week ago. I met a wine grower who grew “biodynamic” grapes last weekend. I just assumed that it was a fancy marketing-speak term for “organic”. I’d probably have given him a hard time if I’d known what it really meant.

  2. July 20, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    “A bit like asking for a vegetarian meal in France and being told by the waiter that your dish only has a little jambon in it.”
    LOL- reminds me of a time years ago when I was in Belgium at a fancy restaurant and asked for a vegetarian dish- after frenzied discussions with the chef the waitress came back to check with me, “but you will eat the little birds, wont you? the very little ones”.

    Great post and you’ve hit the nail on the head- BD is elitist and relies on “seeing beyond science”. Also I know of no organics organisation that does not also promote BD to some degree- Steiner is generally seen as one of the founders of the organics movement; personally, rather than seeing BD as “organics plus” it is more that “ordinary” organics is really just “Biodynamics-lite”.

  3. July 20, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Like so much else you quote from writings by Peter Staudenmaier, like that it is ”suitable only for a spiritually enlightened elite”, cut from the sentence “Anthroposophists themselves, however, view their highly esoteric doctrine as an “occult science” suitable only for a spiritually enlightened elite.” is pure nonsense.

    Try http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthroposophy and – for a comment on the specific quote from Paragraph 5 in the article by Staudenmaier that you propmote above – see http://defendingsteiner.com/refutations/ps01/Anthroposophy%20and%20Ecofascism.pdf

    • Melanie Byng
      July 20, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      Sune, you and Harlan Gilbert (a well-known anthroposophist) sit on Wiki cleansing any alterations. This is the reason I don’t trust Wikipedia.

      ‘Defending Steiner’ is written by Daniel Hindes, according to his blog a former pupil of a Waldorf school in New York with a ‘MS’ from the Sunbridge Institute, an anthroposophical organisation. http://www.sunbridge.edu/about/welcome/

      I don’t think you realise where you are.

      • July 21, 2012 at 12:02 am

        And now, Daniel Hindes is teaching at the world’s most problematic Waldorf school… Highland Hall. Only a few short years ago, Highland Hall was exposed for supporting the teaching of racism as physiology. Many of the very same teachers who supported the racist lessons are STILL there with Mr. Hindes – day in and day out. He must not see anything wrong with teaching racism – otherwise, one might expect him to stop “defending Steiner”.

        • Someone in CA
          October 23, 2013 at 6:16 am

          Mr. Hindes never taught at Highland Hall, which is only the first problem with this very possible libelous comment.

          • October 24, 2013 at 12:47 am

            He was certainly listed as being on their faculty. If he didn’t teach there, and doesn’t support their ideas, why lend his name to their website? I call bullshit! Was he an advisor? Same thing for the purposes of what I’m saying… which is that there’s no question that Highland Hall supports racism! They said so – to me – in front of witnesses… TWICE! They have taught racism as science AND acknowledge the lesson that was taught. By participating in a school that promotes racism as science, Hindes suggests he supports those ideas. Of course, all one needs to do is read “Defending Steiner” to see Hindes absolutely loves Steiner’s racism. If he thinks connecting him to Steiner’s ideas or Highland Hall constitutes libel, let him come after me. I dare him!

            On a side note, considering Highland Hall’s reputation, I can certainly see why some might consider it “libelous” to connect someone to that school…

  4. July 20, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    You might want to fling this fine writing in the direction of Simon Singh who is in a spat with Monty Don about this sort of thing.

  5. Jonathan
    July 20, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    The winner of BBC farmer of the Year a few years back was a Biodynamic farmer. Working in agriculture myself I nearly hit the roof at such an insult. I even wrote to Ben G at the time asking if it was the sort of topic he’d be interested in writing about but he didn’t take it on at the time.

    Another point to make is that none of the Biodynamic pest or disease controls that you mention are approved by the Chemicals Regulation Directorate at HSE. As such they are probably illegal. Maybe someone should inform them ;)

    Jonathan

  6. Jasmijn
    July 20, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Not everyone use skulls and bones in the ground for growing their vege’s , but yes, it’s one of the principles of Rudolf Steiner. We usually use magnetic lava ashes (from France) in our organic garden. Permaculture, biodynamic gardening and going outside when it’s full moon to take care of our vegepatch…
    We use magnetic lava ashes in our garden and have huge tomatoes, 1 meter zucchinis and pumpkins who are much bigger then the ones of the supermarket. And to Graham…if you want a delicious vegetarian meal in Belgium, don’t go to a fancy restaurant! The whole Belgian ‘cuisine’ is mostly French (exept the fries) no one will give you a salad unless its on their menu. I’m from Belgium and if you want some adresses with organic, vegetarian dishes I will be glad to give you! I’m glad I live in Europe, it’s a heaven for vegetarians! I’m travelling now through Asia and no one understands me if you say ‘I don’t eat meat or fish’. They give some kidneys instead…

    • Badly Shaved Monkey
      July 20, 2012 at 7:30 pm

      Next you try laying out plots with and without “magnetic” lava ashes.

      Compare.

      Repeat for all of Steiner’s principles.

      Keep any that actually work. Chuck out the duds.

      That’s science. It’s not rocket science!!

    • Alan Henness
      July 21, 2012 at 1:11 am

      Oh noes! Quack gardening anecdotes. Suppose it makes a change from quack homeopathy anecdotes (even if the fallacies are just the same).

    • Chris
      July 21, 2012 at 8:43 pm

      “1 meter zucchinis”

      Then you are doing it wrong. The better zucchinis are picked before the seeds start to form, they are much less watery.

  7. July 20, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    @Jasmijn “1m zucchunis..” All you need is good rich soil (a scoop of manure for each plant will do the trick) to grow giant zucchinis- but smaller ones are much tastier dont you agree? Nothing to do with astrology or any other woo I’m glad to say!! Re Belgium- not my choice of restaurant, I was working with someone else!

  8. July 20, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Incidentally, I had a lengthy debate with a BD enthusiast last year who, when challenged to provide evidence that BD actually increased yields, angrily asserted that “reductionist” concepts such as yield were irrelevant. I am still waiting to find out what the hypothesis about BD actually is- I mean, what is all this moon planting and cow’s horns actually supposed to do? Apparently nothing measurable- it’s all “beyond science” – that means religion unless I am very much mistaken.

  9. rita
    July 20, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    As the resident vegan who bangs on about how homeopathy, TCM etc etc are not vegan, I’m delighted to see the really horrific practices of biodynamic (hah!) agriculture exposed. Thank you very much!

    • m
      July 8, 2014 at 1:34 pm

      sorry rita, i have to ask where do you buy your food from? because last time i checked most products on the market that are “labelled” vegan therefore would not be vegan! i mean even if the farmer doesnt “kill” the bugs in a non chemical way he will be killing them in a chemical way and if you have found a place who doesnt do ANYTHING to the “bugs” then are you telling me that that farm has NO bugs in it?? which i am sure is not true it will have some sort of “bugs” in it and so being they will as per normal life cycle eventually die and decompose in and around the ground where the veggies grow so then therefore a part of that said animal will be inside of your veggie and therefore how can that be vegan??
      i am sorry i dont mean to be coming over as rude even though it may sound like it i am raising a question to ask exactly what the morals and rules of true veganism are?

      • July 8, 2014 at 2:03 pm

        It’s not killing “bugs” that people are concerned about – it’s the killing of animals to make biodynamic preparations. I think a lot of vegans would be happy to know animals aren’t killed in the production of the products. Vegans buy fly-swatters just like everyone else.

        • Vicky
          July 8, 2014 at 5:12 pm

          I think “m” is trying to argue that vegans cannot live a “truly” vegan life because even if you use synthetic fertiliser, there’ll always be a few dead insects, birds, rabbits, … on the field and the plants growing on the field don’t care where their nutrients come from, so caring about the ingredients of “biodynamic fertilisers” is hypocricy (is that a reverse-True Scotsman?). Most vegans have heard that kind of reasoning before, usually from omnivores trying to start arguments (I guess this is how the “Defensive Omnivore Bingo” was born).

      • Vicky
        July 8, 2014 at 4:53 pm

        Veganism isn’t about “natural” vs. “chemical” (though many vegans try to stick to “organic” produce), it’s about trying to cause as little animal suffering as possible. Pest control is a necessary evil, and it’s quite different from “producing”, raising and killing animals because they’re “tasty”. The natural life-cycle of bugs (or other wild animals for that matter) certainly doesn’t make vegetables “un-vegan”.
        (I’m not a vegan, but one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand their position.)

  10. July 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    ‘It strikes me that this response rather misses the point of the question. A bit like asking for a vegetarian meal in France and being told by the waiter that your dish only has a little jambon in it.’

    One positive thing about the response, however, is that for anyone who’s vegan it makes it clear that biodynamic products are not actually suitable. I appreciate that they’ve responded in such detail. (Although I’m not a vegan myself, and don’t have a huge issue with cow horns and stuff for such reasons.)

    This, to some extent I think, contradicts the claim on Weleda’s website:
    http://www.weleda.co.uk/page/specialrequirements/

    All the listed products are considered suitable for vegans. Which makes me think they don’t take farming practices into account, but rather whether the contents of the product are animal based. (It says: ‘In typical Weleda spirit, tailor-made medicines and special requirements are available to cater for individual needs, for example vegans who may wish to avoid lactose-sucrose base tablets …’)

    But, certainly, for someone vegan, the farming practices should count, too. I suspect?

  11. July 21, 2012 at 1:26 am

    I’ve gone right off Monty and I thought he was well fit. :(

  12. rob
    July 21, 2012 at 6:31 am

    I have been a biodynamic farmer for 25 years and have never delved into anthroposophic theory.
    Instead I have used the biodynamic preparations to enhance the fertility of the soil and balance atmospheric conditions.
    The biodynamic preps are indeed made from cow manure and herbs and stored in animal parts, however they are used in almost homeopathic quantities e.g. a golf ball sized piece of 500 is sufficient to activate 1 acre of pasture and works to stimulate quality humus in the soil. By using these preps I do not need to use artificial fertilizers or chemicals and the cattle are healthy and do not need vet care or treatment.
    Biodynamics balances out a farm and works regardless of your spiritual beliefs.
    Try some biodynamic food you’ll be surprised how good it tastes

    • Badly Shaved Monkey
      July 21, 2012 at 8:37 am

      Argument by assertion. It counts for exactly nothing as demonstration of effectiveness.

      Millions of Aztecs engaged in human sacrifice to ensure that the Sun continued to rise based on exactly the same quality of evidence. Should they recommence this activity or do we have good evidence to suggest it is unnecessary?

      Do you have the wit to understand the problem?

      We see many fans of eccentric belief systems popping up in discussions such as this. It is rare for them to stick around to put their ideas to the test. Let’s see…

      • Alan Henness
        July 21, 2012 at 10:57 am

        Rob

        The importance of randomisation and controls was discovered when R A Fisher worked at Rothamsted Agricultural Experimental Station early last century. He realised that if you don’t randomise and control for all sorts of variables, you can never have any confidence that the results you got were because of what you thought might bring an improvement.

        I highly recommend reading The Lady Tasting Tea by David Salsburg. This relates the story of why we need statistics and properly run trials and how we can all be misled by our own preconceptions and expectations.

    • Badly Shaved Monkey
      July 21, 2012 at 8:42 am

      rob

      Crop research was at the absolute heart of the development of controlled trial methodologies because it was so straightforward to create well-controlled experimental models. The last hundreds years of improved understanding seem to have passed you by.

    • JimR
      July 21, 2012 at 10:42 am

      Rob

      You can make compost tea in a day or two, in higher quantities and achieve everything you wait 1/2 year to make. We are learning more about the micro-organisms in the soil: bacteria, fungi, nematodes, etc. These free up the nutrients for the plants. Compost tea is made in an oxygen enriched mixture that promotes aerobic organisms. By applying this rich mixture to soil and to plants you help suppress anaerobic organisms and grow plants that are healthier.

      HOWEVER, there is little in the way of RCTs to support compost tea.

      • July 21, 2012 at 11:48 am

        Aerated compost teas should be treated with extreme caution:
        http://zone5.org/2010/07/stirring-crazy-permaculture-biodynamics-and-compost-teas/
        -people like Elaine Ingham seem to be promoting them as some kind of “evidence” or justification for BD. Compost teas made by soaking nutrient-rich plants like comfrey or nettles (or manure or seaweed) in water can provide useful plant foods, but they are very variable in quality on a garden scale; providing a liquid feed to plants is ironically more like “conventional” farming than the philopsophy of organics, which advocates more feeding the soil by building humus than the plants directly; excessive high-nutrient liquid feeds can cause polluting run-off and at best is just a waste (the plants can only take up so much nutrients at any given time).
        Spreading BD prep. in “homeopathic” quantities is purely a magical ritual. A moments’ reflection should make this obvious: globally, hardly any famring is BD, and very little (about 1%) is “organic” even; yet conventional yields are consistently higher, the whole point of the debate between Singh and Don.

        • Badly Shaved Monkey
          July 21, 2012 at 2:30 pm

          Is it a debate when Monty Don posted once attempting to disallow any endeavour at objective analysis of the aims of BD then went away again?

  13. Jan Luiten
    July 21, 2012 at 9:49 am

    As I have showed earlier Canard is a pseudoskeptic. What is pseudoskepticism? Pseudoskepticism (or pseudoscepticism) refers to arguments which use scientific-sounding language to disparage or refute given beliefs, theories, or claims, but which in fact fail to follow the precepts of conventional scientific skepticism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudoskepticism.
    In other words they are selling nonsense, fried air, as again confirmed with this post about biodynamic farming.
    But Pseudoskepticism is not an innocent belief. It has zealous adherents who fanatic and fundamentalist represent this belief. They pretend they have the only true ideology , and are not doubting that ideology which is very unskeptical. Under the mask of science but in reality on the feable basis of pseudoskepticism they give themselves the right to belittle an suppress other convictions. This makes this ideology dangerous. It is a neo-reactionary totalitarian ideology. It does not accept other ideologies beside it. It will suppress these other ideologies and is therefore not democratic. Canard , exposed as pseudoskeptic, is now running around as a mad dog to bite everything that is anthroposophical.
    Too long these pseudoskeptics, calling themselves skeptics, have dominated public opinion.
    To all who have been attacked by speusoskeptics:
    Fight Back!!! Visit : http://www.debunkingskeptics.com and/or cantact me: luitenjan@hotmail.com.

    • Andy Lewis
      July 21, 2012 at 10:20 am

      You make my case stronger. Thank you Jan.

      • Jan Luiten
        July 21, 2012 at 10:52 am

        We’ll see, and you are welcome. Wake up Andy.

    • Badly Shaved Monkey
      July 21, 2012 at 2:32 pm

      Jan, as far as I can see you have “showed” nothing of the sort.

      For clarification, if I ask you where and how I can catch myself a gnome is that being sceptical or pseudosceptical?

      I want me a gnome.

    • July 21, 2012 at 5:49 pm

      Can you not calm down long enough to at least spell correctly?

      My particular favourite – “speusoskeptic”

      • July 21, 2012 at 6:49 pm

        And a wrist-slap to me for splitting an infinitive

        • Badly Shaved Monkey
          July 21, 2012 at 11:13 pm

          Given that we are not speaking Latin, I don’t think it matters.

  14. July 21, 2012 at 10:35 am

    “Is Biodynamic Farming Vegan?”

    Well, of course it isn’t. It doesn’t claim to be so either. If it did, it would be rather odd that biodynamic farms openly sell and advertise meat and dairy products, wouldn’t it? (See, for example, http://www.laverstokepark.co.uk/info/about.aspx or http://www.heritageprime.co.uk/)

    (And, before the ad-hom merchants jump in to accuse me — as they have doen before (a sort of discredit the messenger, instead of addressing what s/he says) — of hiding my background, yes, I have worked in a Steiner school in the past — and no, I am not an anthroposophist.)

  15. July 21, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    Don’t you think it a bit odd, though, that BD companies such as Weleda appear to be claiming their products are suitable for vegans?

    • July 21, 2012 at 6:22 pm

      that reply was for Tetenterre, but I apparently failed to post it under his/her comment…

    • July 22, 2012 at 9:21 am

      Without the evidence of what goes into a product, I have no way of formulating a meaningful opinion of whether or not something is vegan-suitable (and as someone with the dentition, alimentary canal and diet of an omnivore, I don’t have a hell of a lot of interest in it either).

      • July 22, 2012 at 10:29 pm

        I’m not a vegan either. If I were, however, I don’t think I’d appreciate how animals are essential in the production of biodynamic products. (Note: not what goes into the products, but how they are produced. And it’s not somehow difficult to know that — some aspects of these methods are described in Andy’s post.)

  16. JimR.
    July 21, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb discusses the narrative fallacy and why we mis-assign cause for almost everything in our lives. I recommend reading this book and then looking at all the events for which you think you understand the cause. He refers to this as the “narrative fallacy”. This is our desire to have narratives to explain farming and everything else as opposed to lots of noisy data that is hard to understand. He is a zealous advocate of skeptical empiricism. Evidence should show that something works, not the skillful narrative of a self proclaimed clairvoyant. Too many anecdotes do not add up to “evidence”. Did the story teller ever look for a way to make something fail?

    A study published in 2000 concluded: “Organic management enhanced soil biological activity, but additional use of the biodynamic preparations did not significantly affect the soil biotic parameters tested.” (Soil Science Society of America Journal,Vol. 64 No. 5, p. 1651-1659)

    Another study concluded that use of BD in viticulture may improve the grapes, but not the soil or vines compared to organic farming.
    I repeat that compost tea should accomplish the same effect without having to become an astrologer.

  17. July 22, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb discusses the narrative fallacy and why we mis-assign cause for almost everything in our lives. I recommend reading this book and then looking at all the events for which you think you understand the cause.

    I second that recommendation. Great reading!

  18. Fiona
    September 6, 2012 at 4:05 am

    I personally fail to see how ANY large-scale farming practices can possibly be defined as “vegan”, whether they’re organic, biodynamic, or “conventional”. As I understand it, veganism prohibits the use or consumption of any animal products, on the basis that the animal has been exploited to produce goods for human use.

    Farms, by their very definition, remove the existing ecology in order to produce goods for human consumption (somewhere down the line).

    Frankly, if that’s the way you look at it, vegans should be eating wild animals that died of natural old age and collecting veggies from the wild. Because that’s the only way to avoid having exploited any animal for human purposes.

    If you eat something farmed by a human, you’ve exploited an animal. Organic or otherwise makes no real difference at that point. (Makes a difference in OTHER contexts but that’s a different discussion altogether).

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