Explaining to my green friends that our 1,500-acre estate is not organic can be a bit embarrassing

I used to be an actress who worried all the time about the next job, learning my lines, and the complications of my love life. The state of the planet didn't get a look-in. Then I got married, and I abandoned my career to dedicate my life to my kids. Suddenly, the state of our planet did matter, and I began to campaign for answers to the crucial issues of the destruction of nature, pollution and the build-up of toxic chemicals in our bodies. These are issues that, when they are presented in worthy documentaries on television, fill me with despair: they are always shown as insoluble. They don't need to be, though. After all, many problems stem from the same root cause - globalisation. In the name of so-called "free" trade, companies are forced to lower environmental and social standards to survive in the global economy. This, in turn, has meant that what was once agri "culture" is now agri "business". There's the rub.

Being married to a marquess can be a double-edged sword: it allows my voice to be heard beyond that of the average middle-aged mother - but it also means I am a target for journalists. I was recently interviewed by a cynical hack who concocted a brutal psychological analysis of my environmental campaigning. I was "yearning for the security" , apparently, that one can see in "other, materially poorer cultures"! The journalist was right about one thing: societies as yet untouched by corporate propaganda have everything I value - community, democracy, self-reliance, spirituality. All this has been eroded in the west, where people are seen as little more than producers and consumers to sustain economic growth. The same hack didn't see why I thought the foot-and-mouth epidemic was caused partly by modern farming techniques. My point was that the disease spreads rapidly because our animals are so unhealthy. Protein-rich feed, chemically fertilised grass, prophylactic doses of antibiotics, overcrowded conditions and weakened immune systems have all contributed to the animals' poor condition.

I spend my time advocating an organic solution to the crises in agriculture, so it can be a bit embarrassing when my eco-friends visit and I have to explain why the 1,500-acre estate at Badminton is not organic. The situation is absurd. Demand for organic food outstrips supply; 75 per cent of it has to be imported, and only 2.3 per cent of UK farmers have converted. My husband will not take the economic risk, and I understand why. How can our farmers compete, when the supermarkets are buying from or purchasing land in eastern Europe and the developing world to provide ever cheaper organic food? The bottleneck preventing farms from converting will be overcome only if we stop promoting an export-led food trade. If the true cost, in terms of energy and health, of food that has criss-crossed the globe were reflected in its retail price, then British chemical-free produce would be cheaper than global, and protectionist subsidies could go.

I don't accept the argument that food imports from developing countries should be encouraged in the name of providing poorer nations with foreign exchange and jobs. Most of their hard-earned foreign exchange is used to repay debts. These debts have been repaid several times over, but this is disguised by the banks devaluing the debtor countries' currencies, forcing them to use ever more land and labour to repay the original sum, plus interest. I want to buy British food to enable poorer countries to use their most fertile land and energy to provide for themselves.

Last month, I took part in the International Society for Ecology and Culture's delegation to Maff and Downing Street with Jose Bove, the extraordinary French farmer who demolished a McDonald's. Like Bove, many British farmers have realised that, with or without animals, their livelihood is threatened, because both the government and the National Farmers' Union have only one aim: to see UK agriculture compete within the EU and the global economy. Already, 45,000 farmers left the land in the past five years; and it has been decided that another 40,000 farms must go in preparation for further EU integration. For our leaders, who are focused on economies of scale, the mass slaughter of animals is just another offering on the altar of "growth at any cost".

Farmers must enlist activists like Bove to help rally the support of locals in rejecting both the Maff slaughtermen and the wrong-headed policies that will lead to the end of small farms in Britain. Perhaps the way to fight globalisation is to join forces with the farmers. In fact, we could all join in the revolution not by hurling bricks, but by supporting our local producers.

For information about local food or to order Bringing the Food Economy Home, phone the International Society for Ecology and Culture on 01803 868 650. Tracy Worcester is associate director of the ISEC

This article first appeared in the 16 July 2001 issue of the New Statesman, How long have we got?