Category Archives: Supermarkets

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: https://politicalcleanup.wordpress.com/2017/10/19/saluting-the-french-president-the-first-head-of-state-to-seek-fair-food-legislation/

 

 

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No fair trade here: cream and butter prices rise but farm-gate prices for milk don’t

The Financial Times reports that a reduction in the milk supply, due to a cold spring and dairy farmers leaving, has led to prices of butter and cream rising 18.7% in the year, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. But despite “record prices” for wholesale cream and butter in recent weeks, the National Farmers Union point out farm-gate prices for milk have continued to fail to keep in step.

BBC online reports that Arla’s CEO Peter Tuborgh said producers “put the brakes on” in 2016, in the wake of previous overproduction of milk and consequently lower prices and Michael Oakes, chairman of the National Farmers Union dairy board, added that UK supply had fallen partly because so many farmers “decided enough was enough during that downturn”. Many farmers have often had to sell milk for less than the cost of producing it and so – understandably – the number of UK dairy producers has fallen.

The National Farmers’ Union said the “constant boom-and-bust dairy market cycle” helped “no-one, most of all farmers” and expressed concern about the lack of strong upward movement in the farm-gate milk price.

Milk buyers are worried about milk volumes falling but, the NFU spokesperson added, “Confidence within dairy farming is at an all-time low [due to] mistrust in the market dynamics and suspicion about how milk buyers are treating their supply base, coupled with the lack of direction on the impact of Brexit on the dairy sector.”

Post-Brexit, will the UK government ensure that ‘ordinary’ farmers receive a fairer proportion of the agricultural payments and turn away from the practice of subsidising offshore companies and rich individuals?

And will the Groceries Code Adjudicator, who places great emphasis on scrutinising supermarkets give more time to food producers and address the issue of unjust farmgate prices?

 

 

 

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MEP Molly Scott Cato urges the Co-operative Group to source locally

Could co-operative retailers sell good quality food produced on their former farms (now owned by the Wellcome Trust) as MEP Molly Scott Cato advocated two years before the sale?

With foreboding in 2012, she saw the depressing comments from the Co-operative Group that the Co-operative Farms are a ‘non-core’ part of the business, and that attachment to them is sentimental, as indicating that the current generation of co-operative managers shared a short-sightedness about their role in providing customers with access to a reliable source of ‘good food’.

In 2010, Molly co-wrote a paper called ‘The co-operative path to food security‘. In it, she pointed to the increasing volatility of global food prices as speculators moved their gambling activities from financial products to commodities markets, saying, “It never was enough for me that the food I bought in my local Co-op was ethical and fairly-traded; as a green economist I also wanted it to be as local as possible”.  She continued: 

Supermarkets that sell the same corporate products as the rest have lost all but the merest token of a co-operative identity

“The Co-operative shops have not been as successful in this regard as I would like because of their centralised distribution system, but my own Midcounties Co-op has been building up its Local Harvest offer in recent years and I’m surely not the only customer who looks to see whether the vegetables on the shelves have been grown on the Co-operative Farms”.

Now that is no longer an option, the writer wonders if an agreement could be made with local Wellcome (former Co-op) farms to provide local food in Co-op stores – and offer some organic options for those who want to avoid food with pesticide residues?

 

 

 

 

“‘Soft’ food imperialism — using others’ land and labour rather than one’s own.”

Last year Ben Webster, Environment Editor of the Times, wrote about Britain becoming reliant on imported fruit and vegetables. The original link no longer works and the environment section no longer exists but the source is recorded here.

Britain’s dependence on imports is leaving it vulnerable to foreign production that could be devastated by droughts and heatwaves resulting from climate change.

Webster lists a number of concerns voiced in a study co-authored by Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University:

  • thousands of orchards and farms dedicated to horticulture have been lost;
  • only a third of apples and one in six pears and plums eaten in Britain are grown here;
  • since 1990, production of cauliflowers has fallen two thirds,
  • almost halved for lettuce,
  • and dropped by a quarter for tomatoes and mushrooms.

Lang is urging the government to reverse the decline in horticulture to guarantee supplies of fruit and vegetables needed for a balanced diet.

  • The total land area dedicated to fruit and vegetable production fell by 27% between 1985 and 2014.
  • Only 5,300 hectares grow dessert apple trees, down from 12,800 in 1986.
  • Plum trees have declined even faster, with only 750 hectares, compared with 2,400 in 1986.

Professor Lang said supermarkets were partly responsible because they had squeezed British growers and switched to foreign companies

European fresh food products now underpin UK access to fresh food; huge amounts of fruit and vegetables are imported. Some of them could be grown here. Why does the UK import apples or pears, for example, which could be grown sustainably here?

Neo-liberals prefer the metrics of economic efficiency, free trade and markets. From a public health or environmental perspective, however, such metrics can be part of the problem – leading to damaging intensification.

Professor Lang said: “We have been genuinely shocked by the mismatch of UK supply and demand in horticulture. Our report points out weak links in the chain: low wages, reliance on migrant labour, a suspicion of low returns to growers, a waste of land and resources. The vast importation of produce which could be grown here suggests that UK policy is tacitly a kind of ‘soft’ food imperialism — using others’ land and labour rather than one’s own.”

A Brexit or Bremain paper by Professor Lang and his colleagues may be downloaded here: http://www.campaignforrealfarming.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Food-and-Brexit-briefing-paper.pdf

 

 

 

 

Seeking food supplies from Turkey and Morocco?  Time for change!

On BBC Radio 4 today it was reported that some supermarkets are limiting sales of fruit and vegetables.

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A newspaper elaborates: “Morrisons and Tesco have limited the amount of lettuce and broccoli after flooding and snow hit farms in Spain. Shortages of other household favourites – including cauliflower, cucumbers, courgettes, oranges, peppers and tomatoes – are also expected. Prices of some veg has rocketed 40% due to the freak weather. Sainsburys admitted weather has also affected its stocks”.

HortiDaily reports on frost in Europe in detail (one of many pictures below) and the search for supplies from Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia.

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A former Greenpeace Economist foresees these and more persistent problems in his latest book, Progressive Protectionism.

Colin Hines reminds us that in 2014 the UK supplied just over half (54%) of its food supply. The EU was by far the next largest supplier at 27%. It is clear that we depend on Europe to keep ourselves fed. He adds:

“At present the UK can only feed around 60% of its present population of 65 million, let alone the around 8 million extra projected in the next 15 years. The UK’s food vulnerability could worsen for a number of reasons. The global availability of the food supplies that the UK at present imports could be dramatically reduced, due to rapidly rising global demand, particularly from Asia; or increased domestic demand from the countries that we at present import from; or if we are unable to afford whatever the global prices might rise to”.

And, presciently, “the threat to UK food security could be more serious should increased global demand combine with other potential problems such as climate change”.

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A 2013 report from the UK government’s official climate change advisers warned that droughts could devastate food production in England by the 2020s. Hines advises: “The answer has to be to heed the Sustainable Development Commission’s call ‘to produce more food from less land and to eat differently, specifically to eat more plant-based foods, less meat and dairy, and to waste dramatically less”.

To this he adds the need to halt as rapidly as possible the UK’s population growth, by curbing present levels of migration and reducing it to more sustainable levels, bearing in mind the numbers we will be able to feed predominantly from our own resources.

Finally he focusses on another area of import dependence.  A 2007 study, ‘Can Britain feed itself?’ by Simon Fairlie, estimated that it could, but that the dietary changes would be significant, “including far less meat consumption, feeding livestock upon food wastes and residues; returning human sewage to productive land; dispersal of animals on mixed farms and smallholdings, rather than concentration in large farms; local slaughter and food distribution; managing animals to ensure optimum recuperation of manure; and selecting and managing livestock, especially dairy cows, to be nitrogen providers”.

Time to ‘retool’ our provisioning?

“UK agriculture is also reliant upon imported energy, fertiliser, seeds and machinery. So should the availability of such imports become limited because of purchase by more affluent countries, or were we to become unable to afford to purchase such imports in the quantities required, then our domestic agriculture itself would be deprived of such essential inputs”.

And, essentially,  give our food producers – from farmers to small-holders – a fair price covering costs of production plus.

 

 

 

A sustainable food system: Rosie Boycott, chair of the London Food Board and adviser to the Mayor of London

Rosie Boycott describes a sustainable system as “One that could guarantee that everyone on the planet has reliable physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food and that meets their dietary needs for an active and healthy life”.

On the challenge of delivering food security . . .

  • Agribusinesses tell us they have the answers: more efficiency, more technology, even greater yields, modified crops.
  • In contrast, the agro-ecological movement argues that only their approach can deliver the necessary calories and nutrition for the world’s population, while also nourishing ecosystems and the people who live within them.

rosie-boycottShe continues: “The focus of policy is too often just on tonnages and calories. We have enough calorific output to feed the world but there is too little attention is given to the problems such as food quality, distribution, impact of production on the wider environment, and waste”.

“We do not currently have a problem of scarcity: more than 50% of all the world’s grain goes to feed animals, who in turn feed us, rather than feeding humans directly. This is a grossly inefficient use of resources: cattle, for instance, can require 15kg of crops for every 1kg of meat. The scale at which we are farming animals means that animal agriculture accounts for 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the transportation sector.

“We should not be blind to role science can play in ameliorating such impacts. In the near future, is possible that animal products including meat could be grown in laboratories, via cellular agriculture, a scientific step that could undermine industrial-scale animal farming and its myriad threats to food security. This model system would require 90% less land and produce 75% less greenhouse gases than current meat production — and not require the use of antibiotics.

“Would such advances be desirable? Personally, I would welcome a world without millions of animals kept on dusty feed lots in Arizona, eking out short, miserable lives between birth and the abattoir”.

Then comes the crunch: the corporations are not going away

Ms Boycott notes that such market structures are considered by some as necessary to drive the provision of cheap food for everyone, but they have removed us from a connection with real food. According to the Food Foundation, typical British children get about two-thirds of their calories from ultra-processed foods. Our food system shapes consumer demand rather than vice versa, and supply chains are so opaque that it is easy for ‘adulterants such as horse meat’ to find their way in. She adds:

“The world will always have huge players in the food sector whose goal is to make a profit. Our food world is dominated by a few big names, which enable us to enjoy food from the other side of the world and bread that lasts for weeks. But such apparent consumer gains that flow from commercial endeavour have wider costs”:

  • the quest for gains in yield demands we use more chemicals each year, with adverse effects on the nutritional content of food and the health of the land. Meanwhile,
  • food-related illness is on the rise and,
  • while hunger persists in parts of the world, over 30% of food grown is wasted.

Rosie says that with market power comes responsibility but gives no direct advice on how to address that corporate power and lack of responsibility

There is massive consolidation of the food industry – in the UK the “Big Five” supermarkets have a 70% market share. We are moving towards yet greater homogenisation of diets as western fast-food takes over the world: we generate 75% of all the world’s food from12 plants and five animal species, but as she notes, “we need diversity of production and supply chains to withstand shocks — political, economic and climatic — as well as unwelcome effects on health”.

She advocates ‘restoring balance’

“To restore balance, we need to give organic, smaller-scale and diverse farming a proper role within the food system, through subsidies which support high quality of produce and recognise positive environmental impacts. We need to steer the world away from our over-reliance on certain foods such as meat.

“Mixed farming, an essentially old practice, can thrive given sufficient backing. Denmark, for example, has the world’s highest share of organic produce, coexisting with intensive, and unpleasant, animal production. In 2014, France introduced a law to shorten supply chains, making clear that seasonal produce and organic are vital for health and security. Some governments are finally recognising that ecologically minded farming has an essential role in delivering food security and that it can live alongside modified industrial systems”.

Rosie Boycott ends, “Our current food system continues to be disastrous for the planet’s health. In the UK, soil depletion means that East Anglia now has an estimated 40 harvests left, while farm land is losing 1-3cm of topsoil a year . . . Let us do more. Unless we want a future where almost everything we eat is grown in a Petri dish, we have to act now”.

Read her article here.

 

Agriculture can reboot the economy: advice from India and Northern Ireland

More precisely: “Contrary to the dominant economic thinking, agriculture alone has the potential to reboot the economy”

devinder-utube-6In a recent article in The Wire an editorially and financially independent site, relying principally on contributions from readers and concerned citizens “who have no interest other than to sustain a space for quality journalism”, Devinder Sharma denounces the practice of outsourcing food production to other countries, and opening up the country to cheaper imports, destroying food self-sufficiency.

Energy desk reports that British taxpayers are paying more than £400,000 a year to subsidise the Newmarket farm of Khalid Abdullah al Saud, a billionaire Saudi prince who breeds racehorses, while successive governments have greedily and stupidly continued to undervalue and short-change agriculture – the most important sector in nourishing and maintaining life.

British and Indian governments encourage the import-export sector in which middlemen, who shuffle paper or figures on a screen, profit from lowering import duty and – as Sharma puts it – ‘opening the floodgates to cheaper imports’ ostensibly justified in the name of ‘taming food inflation’ but really increasing the profits of the establishment peer group.

Another sector is indicted by a Lancashire dairy farmer

She believes that supermarkets – powerful lobbyists and valued party funders – are driving out production of staple British food and compromising food security, adding, “The greedy giants are also putting at risk the livelihoods of hard working British farmers, their families and their communities. Large businesses are gradually asset-stripping everything of value from our communities to make profits which are then invested abroad in places like China and Thailand”.

Shamefully unjust and unwise: in both countries many farmers are paid below production costs for their produce

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We read that William Taylor and other leaders of Northern Ireland’s farming organisations have been actively lobbying politicians from all parties and none, seeking support for legislation on farmgate prices which would ensure farmers in NI a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked across the staples.

The Indian government has offered assurances to farmers in Mozambique and in Brazil that it will procure whatever is produced at a good price. Many will ask why the same assurance cannot be given to British and Indian farmers?

William and Devinder both firmly believe that – contrary to the dominant economic thinking – agriculture alone has the potential to reboot the economy. Outsourcing food production, paying prices below production costs and opening up to cheaper imports will place both countries in a vulnerable position.