Category Archives: Food security

Dairy industry collapsing: stabilised by MacDonald government, 61 years later – thrown to the wolves by Margaret Thatcher

In recent years, dairy prices have been on a rollercoaster: at one point in 2015, farmers were receiving less money for their milk than it cost to produce.

Arla has reduced the price it pays farmers for milk. The drop of 1.73 pence follows a small price reduction last month, giving Arla’s British producers 29.27 pence per litre.

Andrew Cozens (below) has a herd of 230 dairy cattle near Stroud, and sells his milk to Arla.

Lucy Taylor interviewed him for Farming Today (Link to audio, Mr Cozens at 8mins 20 secs.

He remembered the 2015 drop to 16p per litre when all the profits saved from earlier years were used up just to keep going. The price drop in January was expected but a further cut in February had been a ‘bolt from the blue’; he added that if the forecasts of further drastic falls in May were correct he would have to sell up and do something else.

NFU Scotland Vice President Gary Mitchell said that dairy farmers in UK have little confidence that the supply chain is fairly sharing returns from high value dairy products with those milking the cows and must deliver fairer returns to milk producers.

UK Milk Prices – The Twenty Years War: an archived 2015 article by Bruce Jobson, published in a dairy breeders’ magazine. Edited extracts:

Farmers were at the mercy of the individual dairies and prices were extremely volatile. In order to establish a fair and coherent system, the British Government established the Milk Marketing Board (MMB) system for England and Wales as well as, separate Boards for Scotland and Northern Ireland Milk Marketing Board. Set up in 1933 the MMBs pooled all the milk and guaranteed a minimum price to farmers, providing them with a regular service, and a regular cheque.

“The system proved successful and capable of withstanding the instability of the markets. The collective strength (remember: divide and conquer) provided a negotiation position and a pricing system that secured the liquid market price”.

Deregulation and privatisation were part of the Thatcher Government ideology. Though milk producers voted 99.9% to maintain the MMB system, Thatcher abolished the MMB in October 1994 in England, Wales and Scotland and in Northern Ireland in February 1995. In a democratic world the wishes of 99.9% of UK farmers not to abolish the MMB system would, and should have, prevailed. As a result, thousands of dairy farmers were subsequently ruined and this in turn created the rise of division; and supermarket power.

According to the Farmers Guardian, the farm gate price fell by 28% in real terms between 1994 and 2010. “With no MMB as the counterbalance, in 2000 our farm’s milk began a price drop of 40% in 18 months,” recalled Anthony Bradley, a former farmer from the Yorkshire Dales. £50,000 per annum “effectively walked off” the family farm. “That was the end for us as dairy farmers.” In December 2014, an estimated 16 dairy farmers per week were leaving the industry. For some, enough was enough.

In 1995, there were 35,000+ dairy farms in the UK, now there are 13,000+ (Dairy industry in the UK: Statistics, 2016).

Will the next British government institute a similar co-operative, retaining the advantages of the MMB and restoring the country’s collapsing dairy industry?





Absolute power comes from absolute control of food – Devinder Sharma

 This painting is by the French artist Michel Granger.

Is this what we have done to our planet?  

Devinder Sharma shares his interview with French journalist Catherine Andre, posted on January 2018 in the Bhoomi Network emagazine, which shares holistic views on ecological and man-made realities.

A summary

The industrial food production model, developed in the United States and Europe since WWII, and lately widely adopted in South America, is unsustainable and is destroying both the planet and its inhabitants…

The large high-input, high-yield monocultures, with heavy farm machinery running on subsidised fossil-fuel and laced with potent agro-chemicals have not only depleted soil health, but polluted oceans, rivers as well as ground water and has massively contaminated the environment. The decimation of plant and animal biodiversity, and the loss of accompanying ‘traditional knowledge’ has in turn impoverished communities that have lived in synergy with the bio-resources.

The emergence of commodity value chains and the way international trade regimes have been designed, means that developing country farmers have been forced to de-skill, abandon agriculture and migrate to the cities in search of menial jobs. Still worse, the forceful opening of the developing country’s trade barriers and inundation with highly subsidised food supplies, has already turned 105 of the 149-odd Third World Countries into food importing countries.

The best way to address hunger for any developing country is to have production by the masses, and not production for the masses

Producing food and carrying it all the way to different parts of the world has created ‘food miles’ which exacerbates global warming. And ever since the global food crisis in 2007/8, multinational companies are now in a race to grab farm land. Studies have shown that an area equivalent to the cultivable area in China and India has already been purchased or leased in Africa, South America and Asia. But in my understanding the best way to address hunger for any developing country is to have production by the masses, and not production for the masses. Small farmers need to be gainfully employed, in the sense that farming is turned into a profitable enterprise. Political stability apart, the region needs investment in livelihood options which means primarily focusing on restoring agriculture, livestock and the rural infrastructure.

The revival of traditional agriculture, depending on water availability and providing adequate farm prices and market infrastructure is immediately required

At the World Economic Forum 2011 at Davos, business leaders from 17 private companies – including Archer Daniels Midland, BASF, Bunge Limited, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DuPont, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Metro AG, Monsanto Company, Nestlé, PepsiCo, SABMiller, Syngenta, Unilever, Wal-Mart, and Yara International -announced the launch of a global initiative — New Vision for Agriculture — that sets ambitious targets for increasing food production by 20 percent, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions per ton by 20 percent, and reducing rural poverty by 20 percent every decade.

While all the targets seem very attractive, the fact remains that world does not need to produce more. As per the USDA report, the world already produces food for 13.5 billion people, which means for double the existing population. Roughly 40 per cent of the food produced globally is wasted every year. The challenge should therefore be to drastically reduce food wastage rather than to raise production thereby causing more environmental depletion.

From an era of food self-sufficiency, India is gradually moving to be an economy of dependence. Successive governments have pushed in policies that promotes privatization of natural resources, takeover of farm land, integrating Indian agriculture with the global economy, and moving farmers out of agriculture – in essence the hallmark of the neo-liberal economic growth model. The result is clearly visible. The millions displaced will constitute the new class of migrants – agricultural refugees. Twice the number of people that are expected to be displaced by global warming worldwide will be pushed out of agriculture in India.

According to Down to Earth magazine, the food import bill for 2015-16 stood at Indian Rs 1,402,680,000,000.

This was three times more than the annual budget for agriculture. Successive governments have actually been following a policy prescription that was laid out by the World Bank as early as in 1996.

Just like the controversial austerity measures in the European Union, the thrust of the economic policies is to cut down on social security, public investment in food, agriculture, health and education. International Financial institutions, credit rating agencies and the multilateral trading organisations have all been pushing for fiscal reforms. This is accompanied with increasing privatisation of natural resources, encouraging corporate agriculture and pushing for public-private partnership projects.

What India needs is a production system by the masses, not production for the masses.

For a country like India, which has 600 million people directly or indirectly engaged in agriculture, food production has the potential to revitalise the Indian economy, be a pivot of inclusive growth.

As I have often said: “Absolute power comes from absolute control of food” So far, the food chain is in the hands of three dominant players. The technology companies, the trading companies and the supermarkets. I see a convergence taking place in the years to come. Three players are swiftly merging into one – the future food factories. Many universities in US/EU have come up with designs for the future food factory, but the most worrying part is that the World Bank is considering how to subsidise it. That will be the end of farmers then.

Whether in Argentina and Mexico, a circle of poison escalated by the application of chemical pesticides, including the controversial glyphosate pesticide, has caused extensive suffering

In India aerial spraying of Endosulfan in cashew plantations in Kerala had for some decades inflicted innumerable diseases/disorders among the people. Lately a train carrying cancer patients from the food bowl of Punjab, engaged in high-intensive agriculture, to neighbouring Rajasthan has come to be known as ‘Cancer Train’.

With six companies controlling pesticides production, and the same companies also claiming intellectual propriety over ‘improved’ seeds, the control over agriculture has become complete. The Poison papers, prepared by the BioScience Resource Project, is a compilation of 20,000 documents that expose decades of collusion between the pesticides industry and regulators. But still, the international community is unwilling to work towards a pesticide-free world.

If consumers demand pesticide and GM-free food, the retail trade will provide it.

Once the demand for pesticide-free food picks up, I see no reason why farmers will not increasingly come under pressure to cultivate without the application of pesticides and chemical fertiliser. The sale of organic food in recent years has picked up enormously in America, Europe and India. I see this as a major development which can shape the future of agriculture, move towards sustainable farming systems.

Consumers rejecting genetically-modified food is primarily the reason why Europe has stood as a wall against the import of GM food from America. European governments are refusing to give way to pressure to allow for GM foods because of public opposition.

The challenge therefore lies in educating consumers, creating wider awareness about their food habits. Once they realise that they are responsible for the environmental damage the world is faced with, they will change. At a time when the world is in the midst of jobless growth, only a sustainably vibrant agriculture can provide livelihoods, save environment, reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions, and boost the global economy.

Read the full article here:




Farming news from analysts and practitioners


Professor Nic Lampkin, Executive Director of the Organic Research Centre,  responded to George Monbiot’s article, Insectageddon: farming is more catastrophic than climate breakdown:

“He is right on many levels, but what he does not state is that we already have an armoury of solutions to resolve many of the problems that are creating this potential ‘insectageddon’:

“At the Organic Research Centre, we undertake cutting-edge science on agroecological approaches, including the provision of habitats on farms to support insects including pollinators and pest predators, to resolve the environmental conflicts caused by unsustainable farming practices. Farming and wildlife don’t need to be separated – they can be integrated to mutual benefit, as they have been for hundreds of years in European agriculture giving rise to the insect and bird populations which are now in decline.

“Our work with farmers shows that many are already engaged in taking up the challenge for the benefit of providing quality food and protecting the environment.

“But this all comes at a cost. Funding for quality research on sustainable farming, focusing in particular on ecological rather than technological innovation and the means to deliver the results on the ground, is in short supply, especially when short-termism by policy makers is the name of the game. Depressingly, the environment is the ultimate loser and farmers get the blame.

“To implement these solutions, we desperately need the will of policy makers and consumers to trigger change”.


The road to food sovereignty

Pat Mooney, Canadian author or co-author of several books on the politics of biotechnology and biodiversity and Nnimmo Bassey, Nigerian architect and environmentalist activist, outline the concerns of three United Nations organisations in the New Internationalist:

Their solution for both climate and food sovereignty: “Dismantle the global industrial agri-food system. Governments must give more space to the already growing and resilient interlinked network of small-scale farmers, livestock-keepers, pastoralists, hunters and gatherers, fishers and urban producers who, our research shows, already feed most of the world”. The term ‘peasant web’ is used by the authors to include all these food producers.

The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC) has published a report: ‘Who Will Feed Us?’ (download link). Some remarkable statistics are given in the report and listed here.


In Agricology, another organisation, farmers and researchers are sharing knowledge to work towards more resource efficient, resilient and profitable agricultural systems

Over 20 UK organisations are working (see here) on practical, sustainable farming, regardless of labels. Agricology is led by the Game and Wildlife Trust, The Daylesford Foundation and the Organic Research Centre.

A 2014 seminar covered the important role of earthworms in helping to improve soil structure; the improved drainage and cultivation implications of improved soil structure; the beneficial effects on soil structure and soil organic matter (SOM) levels of introducing cover crops into rotations; improving the farm drainage system and knock-on benefits in relation to drilling and improved black-grass control; the importance of waiting for soil to dry out before working it, avoiding compaction; and the impacts of increasing SOM on soil erosion, run-off and soil structure.

The first seminar in 2018 will cover:

  • Herbal leys and pasture fed livestock in arable systems.
  • Experimenting with ley species mixtures for dairy, forage, and soil health.
  • Integrating livestock to graze herbal leys, cover crops, and manage arable weeds.
  • Diverse leys and building soil organic matter.
  • Monitoring the impact of leys on soil health.

Their conclusion: “In response to increasing challenges including declining soil fertility, problem weeds such as blackgrass and increasing cost of inputs, there is a need to rethink the way we farm. Agricology supports farmers and growers to transition to more resilient, sustainable farming systems, bringing together research and farmer experience on agroecological practices (such as reduced tillage, cover crops and reintegrating livestock) to replace inputs with knowledge”.





The World Must Detoxify Its Toxic Farmlands: Devinder Sharma

Plenary address at the 19th Organic World Congress, New Delhi, Nov 19-11, 2017

“Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us… this is a reality we have to face.”  Xi Jinping, President of China

The evidence is all there. With soil fertility declining to almost zero in intensively farmed regions; excessive mining of groundwater sucking aquifers dry; and chemical inputs, including pesticides, becoming extremely pervasive in environment, the entire food chain has been contaminated. Further, as soils become sick, forests are logged for expanding industrial farming, erosion takes a heavy toll[1] leading to more desertification. With crop productivity stagnating thereby resulting in more chemicals being pumped to produce the same harvest, the farmlands have turned toxic. Modern agriculture has become a major contributor to Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) leading to climate aberrations.

Read on here:





In the dark? Could there be a ‘bespoke’ agricultural policy after Brexit

MP for Stroud, David Drew, Shadow Farming and Rural Affairs Minister, retweeted a link to a Farmers Weekly article,Devolved regions left in dark about plans to take farming out of transition agreement’.

Scottish Office Minister Ian Duncan has suggested that the UK will have its own agricultural policy in March 2019. He said: “We believe taking UK farming out of the CAP during transition is the right thing to do. As farmers you will be better off”.

Professor Dieter Helm, chair of the Natural Capital Committee, is advising the Department lor Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on British agricultural policy (BAP) post-Brexit. He says the EU’s principle of paying farmers for the area of land they farm under the basic payment scheme (BPS) should go and asserts that the BPS does not actually affect food production.

But UK farmers subsidise the low (and unjust) prices received for the food they produce with the BPS payments, which average about £25,000 a year per farm according to an article in the Private Eye, issue 1456, which refers to figures from DEFRA’s Farm Business Income Survey :

For 2016-17, the average cereal farm is forecast to make a profit of £38,000 and the average lowland livestock farm £19,000, though the survey also noted that over 20% of cereal, dairy, lowland grazing livestock, mixed and poultry farms failed to make a profit in 2016/17. Without the BPS, most farms would have traded at a loss.

But the DEFRA survey’s figures were said to include BPS receipts and exclude farmers’ wages or personal drawings.

A 2016 LEI study for the NFU concluded that all UK regions would show, on average, a decline in farm incomes if the UK government fully abolished the direct payments. The UK trade liberalisation scenario would show the most significant changes; farm incomes would decline in all regions, except for the East of England where half of the UK horticultural farms are located, as they do not receive single farm payments (now superseded by BPS since Jan 2015) for fruit, vegetables and table potatoes.

How will UK farmers be protected from subsidised food exports from EU farmers who still enjoy BPS payments?

The column in Private Eye (1443) pointed out that given targetted production subsidies Brexit presents a real opportunity to introduce a bespoke British agricultural policy. A British agricultural policy (BAP) could:

  • encourage more mixed patterns of farming,
  • discourage industrial livestock production and
  • reverse the increasing imbalance in Britain’s trade in food.

To this end, DEFRA is urged to seek advice from other quarters – Professor Tim Lang comes first to mind.




Saluting the French President – the first head of state to seek fair food legislation?

Macron: “We should allow farmers not to rely on subsidies anymore and therefore ensure than they be paid a fair amount for their work.”

Reuters reports that President Emmanuel Macron – during a meeting at Rungis international food market in Rungis, near Paris – has called for changes to France’s food chain on Wednesday to ensure that farmers, who have been hit by squeezed margins and a retail price war, are paid fairly.

Macron said that he supported a new type of contract, based on farmers’ production costs

In common with Farmers for Action (NI) which has joined a producer organization (Farm Groups) he is proposing a change in legislation – ‘a new type of contract, based on farmers’ production costs, which would require stronger producer organizations and a change in legislation’.

Prices are currently defined by buyers tempted to pressure prices, leaving many farmers unable to cover their costs.

The changes are part of a wide field-to-fork review promised by Macron during his presidential campaign as a third of farmers, an important constituency in French politics, earned a third of the net minimum wage.

Macron endorsed a proposal from the workshops to create a reversed contract starting from farmers, to food processors and to retailers. This would ensure a better spread of added value along the chain.

Just Food adds: “He promised to shake up the current “balance of power” between producers, food processing firms and retailers. A tougher line would be taken on low prices and discounting and a higher loss-leader threshold for retailers established, Macron underlined . . .

“Legislation will be prepared early next year reversing the current system of food pricing. In future, prices will be calculated on the basis of production costs instead of being imposed by retailers”.

First published here:




A sustainable approach: the production and sourcing of local food


In August a warning was issued by the British Retail Consortium that Dutch tomatoes, Spanish oranges could be held up at ports unless the government quickly smooths out post-Brexit customs processes.

The size of the problem was illustrated last year in a new report from the Royal Society, which shows that the UK is increasingly outsourcing its greenhouse gas emissions.

The editor of the Co-operative News, Anthony Murray, reports that by 2030, the UN wants us to create sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production. At last year’s International Summit of Cooperatives, UN Ambassadors called on the co-op movement to get behind these targets.

He continues: “One of the solutions to creating this sustainable approach is through the sourcing and production of local food. (Typically local food is produced within 20-30 miles of an outlet, but policies vary by retailer). Retail co-ops across the UK support around 1,400 local producers, according to our research into local food initiatives. What has also helped regional co-ops is the relaxing of sourcing rules from the overall Co-op buying group – Federal Retail and Trading Services”.

In another article he reports that Love British Food 2017 was sponsored by Co-op Food, a reflecting co-ops’ commitments to local communities – whether that community is members, suppliers or customers.

In May, the Co-op Group became the first retailer to switch all of its own-brand fresh meat to British suppliers; the retailer only sells British beef, chicken, ham, pork, sausages, duck and turkey and only uses British meat in its own-label chilled ready meals, pies and sandwiches. The only exception is cured meats and continental varieties in ready meals and sandwiches, such as chorizo.