Category Archives: Trade

To eat, to eat in moderation, to eat only humanely reared meat or to abstain?

A letter* from Edmund Dunstan brought clarity on a recurrent question, where formerly the heart and the brain could not reach agreement. He wrote:

Correspondence in the Friend has reminded me of two vegan posters, showing a calf and a chick. In fact, most calves and chicks would not exist without humans’ wish to use them, and might well live less long without humans feeding and protecting them.

“This raises the philosophical question of whether it is better for individual animals to exist for human use, or not to exist at all. It is not unreasonable to think that if they are treated decently, the former might be the case.

In the past, when debating the question of eating meat, I have heard the proposition that food plants are killed when we gather them . . . Orthodox Jains wear face masks to avoid inhaling insects . . . and sweep the ground free of living creatures before stepping out. They are vegetarian not vegan but avoid vegetarian food that is thought to harm living beings such as roots, bulbs and multi seeded vegetables.

Because, as a human animal, I would prefer to have a quick departure, rather than linger on in weakness, confusion or pain, I think the same option a desirable one for well-reared animals.

Tracy Worcester has devoted her time and energy to exposing the cruelty of factory farming and advises: “By using our power as consumers, we can choose pork that carries the RSPCA Assured label, is free range, outdoor bred or organic – and change the system. The power is in our purse. Two sausages from a factory-farmed pig costs the same as one and half sausages from a farm where they are raised humanely. Surely avoiding animal cruelty and saving antibiotics is worth half a sausage?” AndiIn mixed farming there is a ‘virtuous circle’, the crops grown feed the animals, and the animals supply fertilizer to the crop.

In the news recently: Jeremy Corbyn became vegetarian 50 years ago after becoming attached to the pigs when working on a farm – he is now eating more vegan food.

* the Friend: 8th September 2017

 

 

 

 

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Access to food cannot be left to the market forces, it is the responsibility of society and the state: nine measures based on Mahatma Gandhi’s Talisman

An important message from friend and colleague, Devinder Sharma, who chairs the New Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security and is also a member of the coordination committee of the National Kisan Panchayat (National Coalition of Farmers Unions) in India:

It has been exactly 13 years since I was invited by the UK Food Group and Sustain to make a presentation on My Vision for a Global Agriculture at a ‘Dialogue on Agricultural Trade Reform, Subsidies and the Future of Small and Family Farms and Farmers’, held in London, on June 30, 2004.

[Ed: in the same year came the great paper: Stopping the Great Food Swap: Written by Dr Caroline Lucas MEP, based on background research and support provided by Andy Jones and Vicki Hird of Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming, and by Colin Hines, author of Localisation: A Global Manifesto, Earthscan 2000]

But looking at the recommendations I made you will agree that crisis wouldn’t have been of the order that we see today had the world taken a step towards ushering in sustainability. This would have reduced greenhouse gas emissions, limited the damage by climate change and reduced yawning inequality. This is what I wrote in 2004; it certainly needs to be updated. But the essence remains the same, even now:

“My Vision for a Global Agriculture comes at a crucial time in the history of international agriculture. I wish the powers that be, and that includes the agriculture ministers of the G-8 countries, and international agencies like FAO/IFAD/World Bank and the likes had paid some attention to it, and the world wouldn’t have been faced with the kind of crisis that we are confronted with now. It is my strong belief that sooner or later the world will have to return to a sustainable pathway in agriculture, the sooner it happens the better it will be for humanity.

Well, this didn’t happen. And the crisis on the farm meanwhile has already worsened, the environment already devastated. Climate change has the world sitting on a tipping point, and inequality has multiplied so much so that the world is grappling with these problems with no silver lining on the horizon.

I am trying to spell out a series of parameters that should underline all international approaches to agriculture. These are based on Mahatma Gandhi’s Talisman that suggests: ‘Think of the poorest person you have ever known, and ask if your next step will be of any use to him. In short, the effort should be to wipe every tear from every eye.’

Sustainable Livelihoods: focusing on tackling the causes of poverty, hunger, the inequitable distribution of income and low human resource base with the objective of providing everyone with the opportunity to earn a sustainable livelihood. The green revolution areas are encountering serious bottlenecks to growth and productivity. Excessive mining of soil nutrients and groundwater have already brought in soil sickness.

Food Sovereignty: Every country should have the right to food sovereignty. It should result from the interplay of three determining factors: food production, food availability and access to food. A sustainable livelihood approach is the strength of food sovereignty. It should be people centric, based on community strengths, eco-friendly and gender sensitive. Food production, a central pivot of food sovereignty, must be based on minimal use of external inputs and that includes chemicals, transgenics and water. Access to food cannot be left to the market forces, it has to be the obligation of the society and the state.

Local Solutions: For the past three decades the focus has been on finding global solutions to local problems in agriculture. The World Bank/IMF, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and now some of the major donors like DFID and GTZ have been embarking on introducing alien approaches to agricultural improvement and have exacerbated the crisis on the farm front. This process must be immediately stopped, if not reversed. Given the diversity of the agro-ecological regions, sustainable agriculture needs location-specific solutions. 

Emphasis on food as a commodity: this has encouraged monocultures, loss of biodiversity, encouraged trade in some food commodities, distorted domestic markets, and disrupted the micro-nutrient availability in soil, plant, animals and humans. The emphasis on food as a commodity to be traded internationally has encouraged food miles, adding to greenhouse emissions, water mining, and destruction of farm incomes. The need is to revert back to the time-tested farming systems that relied on mixed cropping and its integration with farm animals, meeting the household and community nutrition needs from the available farm holdings.

Move away from Cash Crops: For the past two decades at least, the World Bank/IMF, some in academia and their donors have been pressing developing countries to diversify from staple foods to cash crops in what is being projected as the right approach to add to farm incomes. This is politically motivated advice and runs counter to the sustainable approach spelled out above. Many Latin American countries are faced with a serious land degradation crisis and increasing hunger as a result. It also pushes farmers into a death trap since the developing countries do not have the resources to provide for adequate marketing infrastructure. Move away from cash crops: focus on staples, only trade surpluses.

Reverse Farm Exodus: The disappearing family farms in the developed countries and the process of further marginalisation of the farming communities in the developing world are the symptoms of the same malaise. Farmers are being pushed out of agriculture through a farming system that is becoming increasingly unremunerative and industrialised. To maintain ecological balance, and to ensure sustainable livelihoods, the focus of any policy imperative should be to restore the pride in family farms. This will need adequate state protection and support and at the same time should be based on the principle of mutual compatibility with the small farmers in the majority world.

Reorient Farm Research: International agricultural research, as well as the national agricultural research systems, should re-orient the focus of farm research based on these principles: farmer friendly, environment friendly and long-term sustainability. Instead of the ‘Lab-to-Land’ approach, which has done immense damage to agriculture globally, the emphasis should be on learning from the land, going back to farmers and the traditional farming systems. Technology need not always be high-tech and sophisticated, it can be simple and effective, fitting the new improved technology to farmers’ need rather than asking farmers to fit into the technology package developed. This can only happen if farm research is brought back to the public sector. All technology should be freely available, and should not come with any proprietary tags.

Change Food habits: Obesity has already emerged as the biggest killer in America, with tobacco-related deaths now in the second position. This is the outcome of the private industry efforts to change the food and dietary habits to suit their commercial interests. Industry is desperate to ensure its acceptability irrespective of the human costs involved. Changing the food habits of the urban consumers that dictate market demand, is certainly a difficult task. Ban advertisements for junk foods and genetically modified foods.

Encourage Local Markets: Creating a global market for farm produce is the bane of modern agriculture. The seed multinationals, the food giants, and the supermarkets, have cornered the food chain in the process destroying livelihoods, local markets and drastically reducing food choices. Such a market strategy has resulted in the disappearance of locally produced nutritious foods and micro-nutrient deficiency in human populations has grown manifold. Encouraging local markets will also reduce the dependence upon long distance transportation thereby minimising global warming. It will also help in bringing back the traditional and neglected crops, and help in changing the food habits.

This political process and mainline thinking has to be reversed for the sake of the global economy as well its sustained future. We need a world where every country is proud of its farmers, and where every farmer is proud to be the food provider – the annadata.

A happy farming family is the base for any and every strong economy. It is also the foundation for an all-round economic growth and development and the pre-requisite for sustainable development at the local, national and international level. Unfortunately, the small-scale farmer (called Kisan in India) has become a burden on the global society. Every government is keen to get rid of them as quickly as possible. Globalisation, economic liberalisation and the free trade paradigm are all aimed at pushing farmers out of agriculture.

Devinder Sharma is an Indian agricultural scientist, thinker, researcher and writer respected for his views on food, sustainable agriculture and trade policy. Through his writings and analysis, he focuses on the inextricable link between trade and sustainable agriculture, new technologies, intellectual property rights and biopiracy, poverty and hunger. He chairs the New Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security and is also part of the coordination committee of the National Kisan Panchayat (National Coalition of Farmers Unions) in India.

 

 

 

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Butter price rise: falling milk production, rising demand, adverse weather, liberalisation – low prices are still the elephant in the room

As salaried workers in the commercial media, futures markets and organisations including the NFU, AHDB, DEFRA, DairyUK and RABDF pontificate about the situation, it is good to see that the ignored elephant in the room is slipping in to the columns of the Financial Times.

Emiko Terazono, commodities correspondent, reports that many dairy farms in Europe and Brazil have endured years of ‘sluggish’ (aka low) dairy prices and quotes Kevin Bellamy (Rabobank): “Many dairy farms in Europe and Brazil are suffering from a shortage of young cows to bring into the herd after the years of sluggish dairy prices. Because of the period of prolonged low prices the young stock aren’t there”.

She refers to the EU’s move to liberalise its dairy market in 2015, lifting restrictions on production and exports, which caused prices for fall by more than half between 2014 and 2015, with many dairy farmers around the world going out of business or struggling under increased debts. The EU then responded by introducing voluntary output cuts and compensated farmers for not producing milk. World milk supplies from leading five producer regions slipped 0.4% in 2016.

January protests outside the EU Council building covered here. Above, see the European Milk Board’s Faironika, the artificial cow canvassing for fair payment for dairy farmers and explaining the nutritional value of milk, the role of farmers and their value to the rural economy

During the protests in January, Sieta van Keimpema, dairy farmer and vice-president of the European Milk Board, the lobby group representing the region’s producers, “Milk producers all over Europe are still in the throes of the crisis . . . and although the milk price has rebounded from last year’s lows, it is still lower than the cost of production”.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Government tolerance of unfair trade imperils British food production by failing to deliver justice

 A friend who does not follow farming news in any detail singled out this graph on my computer and I had to say that a more up-to-date version would show even greater falls:

Farm income has fallen sharply on average in Britain and is reported to have plunged by more than 40% in a single year in Northern Ireland, leading to warnings that the industry is facing a crisis. The biggest ‘driver’ was a fall in dairy prices, which dropped by 27% to £480m. The figures were disclosed in a report published by NI’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. 

The BBC reports that some young people from these British farms are now being compelled to get jobs in agriculture overseas because – though their help is needed – their parents can’t pay them to stay at home and work on the family farm.

Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ian Marshall said “These grim income figures are a body blow for farming families – but they are also a body blow for the entire Northern Ireland economy. Almost £130m was taken out of the rural economy. That is money that would have been spent locally, meaning towns and villages across Northern Ireland will have felt the impact of hard times hitting the farming community.” 

Ulster Unionist agriculture spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson said the figures demonstrated the seriousness of the crisis: “Very few people in Northern Ireland would be able to tolerate a 41% wage cut, but yet that is what our local farms have effectively been hit with”. 

In Britain as she says, the sheer scale of the collapse in farm incomes offers a stark warning that each administration’s department of agriculture should – however belatedly – intervene to address the damaging impacts of unfair prices from processors and retailers. 

For more information go to the Gosling Report. ‘On the eve of destruction’.