The supermarket ombudsman has announced what has been known to food producers for many years: that Tesco (and we add, others) “knowingly delayed paying money to suppliers in order to improve its own financial position”.
The position of successive governments is that – as farmers go to the wall – we can increase food imports from a global market designed only to enhance the profits of the already rich middlemen and commodity speculators. That means, as at present, importing cheap food from countries outside the EU with poorer standards of animal husbandry.
Cheap yes – now but it is a basis commercial practice to gain a foothold in the market, undercut rivals eventually wiping them out of business, then being free to set price levels at will.
In calling for fair trade in Britain – the ability to put fairly traded milk in Fairtrade coffee is recognised by Fairtrade chief, Barbara Crowther – but a thoughtful reader has reservations:
On the Fair Price for Farmers issue I agree that it is vital that environmental costs, especially carbon footprints, are taken into account in all economic calculations. Also that big business should not be able to hold small business to ransom. But, with these important provisos, I would none the less be cautious about supporting ANY BUSINESS ANYWHERE in that some industries are just not likely to be profitable either because of, say, an unsuitable climate or the lack of skill or diligence on the part of those involved. The issues seem to me a bit different and in some respects more complex than in the usual FairTrade process. But some one needs to make a start!
He was informed that assessments of the costs of competent production have been done – there are a few methodologies – the best was an earlier study by the RABDF – a note on this work was attached.
Just price/fair trade theory was put into practice in medieval Britain – see the work of R.H.Tawney. It is not just a matter of food security but of basic justice.
In England, Scotland and Wales, to varying extents, government and large agricultural bodies have used a version of the colonial divide and rule practice with food producers, so that in each sector, milk, meat, veg and fruit producers look inward to their own affairs and as relatively small entities are powerless to press effectively for change – most urgently needed for those selling quickly perishable food.
Not so in Northern Ireland – see farmers there combining, commissioning fact-finding research, and entering effectively into dialogue with Stormont, before forthcoming elections (see next post).