Category Archives: Supermarkets

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Any subsidy should favour the smaller farmer

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James RB Odgers, from Bridgwater, Somerset, writes in response to an FT editorial “Britain’s farmers will need help after Brexit”. He came into farming 15 years ago after a broad experience on the boards, public and private, of many companies across the UK and Europe:

Our model avoids as many subsidies as possible, to see if farming can be profitable without them. The model provides opportunities for families to run their own small-scale, traditional farming businesses on our land (below) using share farming agreements and selling through a common brand. Read more here.

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Coming into farming as an outsider, some issues appear obvious. 

First, any discussion about subsidies needs to address the oppressive role played by supermarkets

Their power should long since have been curtailed under antitrust or oligopoly legislation had any government had the guts to take them on. These leviathans dictate pricing and have a distressingly accurate reputation for driving profit out of the farming sector — whatever their massive public relations departments may claim otherwise.

Farms have had to increase in scale if they are to survive such an onslaught 

This has led also to increasingly precarious methodologies that rely on unsustainable inputs that are also under the control of giant and unaccountable corporations. Four years is quite enough time to address this — and there would be the added advantage of removing much of the waste that the system engenders: up to a third of all food purchased currently being thrown away.

Second, the allocation of many subsidies is not, as you write, based on food production but on land ownership

It cannot be justifiable that the more land I own, the more money I receive from the public purse. A graduated subsidy is what is needed (if any), tilted towards the smaller farmer, with an environmental bent and incentives to employ more people. The current trend is towards fewer people working in any capacity on farms and this has led to a relentless degradation of rural communities.

Third, much is made of our so-called moral responsibility for ever-greater yields to provide ever more food for a growing global population

Such an argument is often heard when new technologies are being proposed — usually with more profit as a primary motive.

It is for us to feed our own, first and foremost; we import 40% of our food at present . . .

There is quite enough land on this planet to feed a population far greater than today’s: the answer lies in education and distribution.

 

 

 

The family farm: ‘On the eve of destruction’- Farm Groups lobby for prosperity in Northern Ireland

In the period leading up to May’s election, farm groups are asking all parties and independents to add legislation on farm gate prices to their manifesto; this would require a minimum return of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked across the staples for Northern Ireland farmers, giving a huge welfare saving of more than £280million and more than 20,000 new jobs and prosperity across the province in towns, cities and countryside. If in receipt of a proper return for their produce, farmers buy goods and services from – on average -123 different suppliers on an on-going basis, including 5-10 tonnes of steel per annum, which would make a huge difference to the UK steel industry.

NI Farm Groups have established that this is a devolved matter and further investigations have indicated that it is legal all the way to Brussels and to go to the polls with these proposals would surely be a vote winner for any party or independent, not to mention the prosperity that would follow for Northern Ireland.

FFA and NIAPA started to meet all the political parties and Independents in the wake of the Gosling Report, which makes the case for legislation on farm gate prices by Stormont as soon as possible. In it, Paul Gosling clearly states the prosperity, jobs and welfare savings that legislation on farm gate prices would create for Northern Ireland. The full report, ‘On the eve of destruction’, may be read here.

WT2 TUV meeting(Pictured l-r Michael Clark, chairman NIAPA, Sean McAuley, FFA Steering Committee, Jim Allister MLA & William Taylor, FFA UK NI co-ordinator).

At the first meeting with MLA Jim Allister (Traditional Unionist Voice, TUV), the farm groups put forward their proposals and William Taylor, FFA UK NI co-ordinator, commented: ‘The TUV leader proved to be well informed about just how bad things are down on the farm and is considering his parties support for this proposal very seriously indeed’.

wt declan mcaleer sinnfeinFarmers For Action and Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association met a Sinn Fein delegation, including MLA Declan McAleer (left) at Stormont. Sinn Fein, including Minister O’Neill, have been good listeners on this issue for the last two years as it has evolved. They have asked plenty of questions, all of which, to date, have been answered. It would appear from their interest that they are very supportive of the idea, providing they can convince their members that it would work.

No other solutions available

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Northern Ireland Farm Groups, Farmers For Action and Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NIAPA) representatives met William Irwin MLA and Chair of the Agriculture Committee at Stormont (above) on the issue of Democratic Unionist Party support for legislation on farm gate prices across the staples to be put in place after the election.

William Taylor stated, “William Irwin is a farmer himself, with his son at the coal face and doesn’t need told just how bad things are down on Northern Ireland farms and furthermore, that NI’s young farmers and their families are not going to wear the current situation much longer before changing profession!” By the end of the meeting the conclusion was that there were currently no other solutions available and that the DUP would continue to consider the legislation proposal by the Northern Ireland Farm Groups.

Representatives of Northern Ireland Farm Groups met Harry Cullen, Chair of Northern Ireland Conservative Party and Roger Lomas West Tyrone Conservative representative.

William Taylor said “the meeting was an excellent opportunity to hear the official Conservative position on Northern Ireland including their free vote on Brexit decision by PM David Cameron. Roger Lomas had attended the Northern Ireland Farm Groups packed farm gate price crisis meeting in Cookstown last Autumn alongside many other politicians and was an excellent contributor – no stranger to the proposal for legislation on farm gate prices blue print”.

As he said: “Consumers have protection from supermarkets, why shouldn’t farming families have the same protection from the supermarkets?”

wt conservativesAnimated group: Roger Lomas, NI Conservatives West Tryone, Sean McAuley and William Taylor Farmers For Action and Harry Cullen, Chair of NI Conservative Party.

“Harry Cullen proved to be exceptionally well informed about Northern Ireland politics from a to z and didn’t need told about the consequences of allowing family farmers to continue leaving the industry and the need for legislation on farm gate prices proposal to be explored, nor was he under any illusions about the ability of farmers to make a country wealthy when they are receiving just reward for their labours.”

A fully briefed MP

WT ian paisley meetingThe NI farm Groups met MP Ian Paisley (Democratic Unionist Party) at his Ballymena office. Sean McAuley, FFA Steering Committee Member stated, “We found Mr Paisley fully briefed on the Gosling Report and the non-optional blue print for rural NI, put together by FFA and NIAPA . . . and very aware and deeply concerned about the current farm gate price crisis across the staples. Mr Paisley volunteered his input and help going forward and made it clear his door was open and his help was available, and insisted on being kept informed”.

Meeting representatives of the Social Democratic and Labour Party at Stormont

Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association and Farmers For Action NI met SDLP representatives in order to gather further support for legislation on farm gate prices in Northern Ireland. On arrival they had the opportunity to meet with the new SDLP leader Colum Eastwood initially along with Alex Attwood.   After they left the meeting to continue with Stormont business, the meeting continued with a very interested Sean Rogers.

wt sdlpPictured l-r: Fearghal McKinney, Deputy Leader of SDLP, Sean Fitzpatrick, NIAPA, William Taylor, FFA and Sean Rogers, SDLP Agriculture spokesperson.

William Taylor FFA co-ordinator concluded that the SDLP are taking the disastrous financial situation in rural Northern Ireland very seriously indeed. They spent a lot of time asking questions and getting to understand how legislation on farm gate prices in Northern Ireland would work across the staples to return a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked to family farmers for their produce. William Taylor and Sean Fitzpatrick are hopeful that SDLP will back the case for legislation on farm gate prices after the election and perhaps make the case for it in the run up to the election, citing the new jobs it would create, the welfare savings and the prospect of increasing prosperity in Northern Ireland.

Members of Northern Ireland Farm Groups met MLA Claire Sugden (Independent) based in Coleraine.

wt 2 claire sugdenClaire has to date been a good friend to NIAPA and FFA’s call for legislation on farm gate prices in Northern Ireland to return a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked. She attended our packed public farm gate price crisis meeting with many other politicians in Cookstown last November where she made her fellow MLA’s sit up and take notice by announcing that she was minded to put forward the proposal for legislation in Stormont after the election providing she gets the votes to return to Stormont. This latest meeting with Claire left the members of NI Farm Groups in no doubt of her commitment to this pledge, nor any doubts about her being a very well informed politician.

NIAPA and FFAUK (NI) met UKIP representatives to ask for their support in their manifesto for legislation on farm gate prices.

“As Europe and Northern Ireland farmers descend into poverty there is no good reason why Northern Ireland cannot be first to come up with the solution,” said Sean McAuley. Mr McAuley continued, “We got a good listening ear from UKIP and they asked all the right questions and gave us the impression that legislation on farm gate prices could be on their manifesto especially with its potential for thousands of jobs, welfare savings of close to £300million and prosperity that will follow for Northern Ireland.”

Northern Ireland Farm Groups held a meeting with the Alliance Party’s Agricultural representative Kieran McCarthy.

wt cllr tim morrowKieran is retiring in May and brought along Councillor Tim Morrow whom Alliance hope will succeed him if elected. The Farm Groups were delighted with the interest taken in the legislation on farm gate prices proposal. Michael Clarke, NIAPA Chairman stated, “Tim Morrow is a farmer himself and witnesses every day the punishing financial environment that Northern Ireland farmers are currently trying to operate in.” He continued, “Councillor Morrow asked all the right questions as the project was new to him and was given the best answers available, leaving him plenty to think about and, we hope’ to consider the possibility of putting it in Alliance’s manifesto, backing the push for legislation immediately after the election.”

Vernon Coaker, the Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary of State, meets NI Farm Groups in Belfast.

wt vernon coakerSean McAuley, FFA Steering Committee stated that Mr Coaker showed great interest in both the Gosling Report and the Non-optional blueprint for rural Northern Ireland and therefore the pluses of legislation on farm gate prices for Northern Ireland. Mr Coaker was aware that Jeremy Corbyn has a keen interest in things rural. The Farm Groups painted the picture for Mr Coaker, of how all family farmers across GB as well as Northern Ireland have the potential to return prosperity to the UK should they be receipt of a proper return for their produce, as when farmers have money they purchase goods and services from many suppliers and prosperity ripples outwards.

The meeting concluded, therefore, by demonstrating that Northern Ireland had nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting in place legislation on farmgate prices after the election, in the hope that it could be a shining example of prosperity across Northern Ireland’s towns, cities and countryside alike, then hopefully to be followed by Scotland, Wales, England and Southern Ireland.

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Approximately 18 months ago Farmers For Action (FFA) and Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NIAPA) met a representative of each of the four main churches in Northern Ireland, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, and the Samaritans which proved ‘enlightening’. The farm groups have now decided to invite all Christian denominations directly to a summit meeting to see if they can persuade them to encourage parishioners to vote for the party/parties or independents in their area who will pledge to introduce legislation on farm gate prices immediately after the election.

Contact NI Farm Groups: William Taylor (FFA UK NI co-ordinator), 56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, BT51 4NU, Tel. 028 703 43419 / 07909744624 Email taylor.w@btconnect.com