Category Archives: Supermarkets

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?

 

 

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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: https://chssachetan.wordpress.com/absolute-power-comes-from-absolute-control-of-food-devinder-sharma

 

 

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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.

snow-2spain

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.