Category Archives: Vested interest

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.

 

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

wt william irwin

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.

*

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

Scots pioneer: will collective action on marketing fresh produce help to counter the imbalance of power in Britain’s food supply chain?

Injustice: when a product is imported at a price below its cost of production the British government may take action under WTO/GATT international agreements – but when British produce (often liquid milk) is sold at a price below its cost of production government takes no notice and certainly no remedial action.

Currently large buyers can shamefully hold producers of perishable food to ransom

alyn smith mepEarlier this month, Clyn Gallagher reported that MEP Alyn Smith (right), the Scottish member on the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, approves the setting up of the country’s first producer organisation. He described it as “a vital first step in saving Scotland’s dairy industry”.

Legally constituted groups of farmers or growers assist in the distribution and marketing of fresh farm produce and can optimise production costs, stabilise producer prices, and respond faster to changes in the market.

Members of the Milk Supply Association (MSA) are in the process of registering with the Rural Payments Agency to form the first EU Dairy Producer Organisation (DPO) in Scotland. Following the 2013 reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, these organisations can negotiate collectively for contract terms, including price, and access markets unavailable to individual producers.

ec 2 press release header

Dacian Cioloş, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, pointed out in the press release that the 2013 agreement was intended to lead to far-reaching changes:

  • making direct payments fairer and greener,
  • strengthening the position of farmers within the food production chain and
  • making the CAP more efficient and more transparent.

These decisions, he believes, represent the EU’s response to the challenges of food safety, climate change, growth and jobs in rural areas.

MEP Alyn Smith said: “I hope to see more Dairy Producer Organisations popping up all over Scotland to counter the imbalance of power in the food supply chain, and I will do everything I can to support them in the European Parliament and at home.”

“Farmers have traditionally eschewed collective action but attitudes have to change in this world of the modern supply chain and the retail juggernauts.

 

Agriculture on the agenda: Paris Climate Conference

America’s US National Public Radio website carried an article by Alastair Bland, Carbon Farming Gets A Nod At Paris Climate Conference”

las canadas4 farmingCourtesy of Ricardo Romero/Chelsea Green Publishing: Las Cañadas (above) is an ecological cooperative in Veracruz, Mexico, working to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change while producing food, materials, chemicals and energy.

It is reported that – for the first time – world leaders at the 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference have made the capture of carbon in soil a formal part of the global response to the climate crisis.

The United Nations Lima-Paris Action Agenda is aimed at “robust global action towards low carbon and resilient societies.” Countries, businesses and NGOs signed on to a series of new commitments under the agenda, including several on agriculture. André Leu, president of IFOAM, an organization that promotes organic agriculture and carbon farming worldwide, said, “This is a game changer because soil carbon is now central to how the world manages climate change.” Read in detail: Iowa Farmers Look to Trap Carbon in Soil and the rest of Bland’s article.

A different priority:

Northern Ireland’s farmer-negotiator William Taylor adds a warning to governments about pointing the finger at livestock methane emissions which are being improved on. He makes the point that these disperse in 20 years – while the corporate food world plays fast and loose with carbon footprints purely for profit, with the Government’s blessing, and the resulting CO2 emissions from the export and import of food take 200 years to disperse.

WT 2 and FFA-NI

Speaking on behalf of Farmers for Action NI, he calls for the introduction of systems like that in the pre-EU Isle of Man system, where regional produce, which must come from the nearest source, must all be used first before any is imported.

Referring to the wasteful and polluting food swap practice, he says that it is not logical for the US to support a climate change conference in Paris and then continue to have the same food (for instance, beef) sailing from UK to the US whilst another ship sails from US to the UK with the same cargo.

Some Americans agree with William:

nrdc logoThe National Resources Defense Council is an environmental action group, combining the grassroots power of more than 2 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of nearly 500 lawyers, scientists and other professionals. The New York Times calls NRDC, “One of the nation’s most powerful environmental groups. From a report on their website:

And by buying local, it means that your food isn’t traveling long distances by planes, trains, trucks, and ships, which all consume energy and spew pollution that contributes to global warming and unhealthy air quality. Plus you get the added benefit of what many chefs are saying is fresher, better tasting food on your table!

Boosting soil carbon? Minimising transport of produce?

Both are valid and important strategies.

Government must address the threat to Britain’s fresh food supply: Ian Potter’s advice

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milk farmers leaveFarming Weekly has reported that almost half of Britain’s dairy farmers are scheduled to leave the sector, according to an intentions survey carried out by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF).

Farms are vitally important to a region’s rural economy, trading with many businesses and professions, including vets, animal footcare specialists, accountants, various environmental, financial or animal health services, haulage companies, insurance brokers, auctioneers, land agents, agricultural contractors, agricultural engineers, mechanics, electricians, builders, plumbers, feed merchants, hairdressers and miscellaneous agricultural goods suppliers as well as local pubs, shops, garages and other vital community services.

That is the key message from dairy farmer Kathleen Calvert, who asks for a fair deal for dairy farmers, now once again receiving a significantly lower share of the retail milk price than ten years ago, despite considerably higher costs.

price milk 14-15

She says: “We are losing hold of a vital skills base at an alarming rate as dedicated dairy farming families are no longer financially able or prepared to work at a continual loss. We believe that many milk buyers gamble with the continuity and security of the UK milk supply by keeping much of the profit further up the market chain. Despite varying business structures and the importance of food production, most farm gate prices are now lower than production costs. This has a knock on effect on a wide range of other businesses and livelihoods of countless people involved, ultimately leading to pressure on incomes”.

It is easy to put pressure on those producing perishable food: fresh milk, fruit and vegetables, who have to sell quickly – in effect holding them to ransom.

ian potterInitially specialising entirely in agricultural quotas Ian Potter Associates has consistently headed the field in providing the very best market intelligence, knowledge, expertise, customer service, advice on trading or on increasingly complex regulations and on the most transparent and up to date prices in the market place.

In a recent newsletter Mr Potter refers to the situation in France. The French Fédération Nationale des Coopératives Laitières (FNCL) advocates that no further permission be granted for the import of dairy products, though Dutch Dairy Associations are demanding they respect the EU single market principles and allow foreign dairy imports into France.

hollande with farmers

The French president, François Hollande – who really seems to care about food producers – has vowed to address the pricing issue, urging French consumers to buy domestic produce.

Their agriculture minister also has urged consumers to be patriotic in their dairy purchasing to help save the livelihoods of the 25,000 French dairy farmers. “All must favour French products,” he said.

Ian Potter continues: “In my opinion we now need a campaign to promote the buying of British dairy products using British milk”

Dairy farmers are compelled to pay a levy to DairyCo/AHDB, a body set up by government, which, Mr Potter notes, has received more than £1 million extra as a result of the increase in production, so it has already had AND SPENT the extra money. He asks: “But on what? Cynics say it spends the money on encouraging more production because that generates more levy money for it…and so on!”

DairyCo told the Radio 4 Farming Today Programme on the 13th August that it can’t promote British dairy products

Ian Potter ends: “I think farmers will want to know exactly why that is. I have heard one Tesco farmer would prefer to give his levy to Tesco if he could to help it promote British milk. That makes sense to me if DairyCo won’t!”

Meanwhile food imports rise and government ministers advise hardworking farmers to place their ‘commodities’ on the global market so that internet bound speculators can ‘make a killing’.

Next: advice from Barbara Crowther, Director of Policy & Public Affairs, Fairtrade Foundation

 

Food supply: a farmer is angered by state media misinformation

A paragraph in an emailed message received from a Lancashire farmer said: “I am truly incensed with what I heard on the BBC R4 report this morning on the dairy farming situation and was appalled by what was mostly utter and misleading rubbish and pure propaganda”.

Often it is implied that farmers want the shopper to pay a higher price.

andrew hemmingThis is probably a ‘divide and rule’ tactic and is not true. Farmers like Andrew Hemming, the late vice-chairman of Farmers for Action (right), actually believe that shoppers are paying a good price and should not pay more. Milk producers want to have a better share from the supermarket-paid processor to come from the profit margins of these well-paid middlemen.

Market pundits say that the low milk price was due to surplus production

But only 85% of milk in Britain is produced by British dairy farmers – so there is no national surplus.

On Radio 4, unchallenged, it was said that the farmers threw out the milk board & it now serves them right.

I checked: Mrs Thatcher decided to abolish the Milk Marketing Board (below: 1983 stamp). Our farming informant adds that at the time the EU mounted a number of legal challenges against the end use pricing system that operated at the time under competition laws and also the state owned marketing board was against the free market philosophy.

mmb 2 1983Farmer Anthony Bradley in the Guardian recalls,“In the 1930s our grandad could remember putting milk and butter on the train and sending it to Bradford or Leeds. But some days it was sent back, without payment, and the family pig had a large meal . . . This abuse of market power, made worse by dealing with a perishable product, was one of the reasons the board was established. It took the uncertainty out of the market and allowed farmers to plan. This was vital, as a cow cannot be switched off when your milk buyer changes their mind. The MMB pooled all the milk and then marketed it together. Then Mrs Thatcher decided to abolish the Milk Marketing Board.

The powerful corporate lobby is desperate to preserve the highest profits

Producers of perishable food will continue to suffer and be held to ransom in turn.

top 20 cap tableThey will again be told by the corporates’ economist, Sean Rickard, and be told to ‘go and live off your subsidy’.

Our farmer reminds him of the figures which have been publicised for years. These show that the already rich large and/or corporate landholders receive most of the subsidy cash –  a few named opposite – with Arla heading the list in Denmark and adds:

“We have never claimed any subsidy other than the very basic payment which helps to pay the bills we would be able to pay if we were paid a proper value for our produce”.

fda tableGovernment advocates producing food for export – aiding the get rich quick commodities speculator.

America is already said to be ‘losing the battle’ against tainted imported food and already publishes figures on this issue, showing comparatively few inspections (left).

Britain keeps quiet.

If the public remains uninformed and silent, in turn they will eventually be held to ransom, relying even further on ever more expensive imported food, sometimes produced by dubious if not dangerous methods.

Short-termism may kill the hens that lay the golden eggs

gov uk header

Four days after the government’s Competition and Markets Authority reported evidence that supermarkets are misleading customers with confusing pricing promotions, and announced a series of measures to improve compliance, bring greater clarity to shoppers and simplify the regulations, a reader from Shirley sent a link to another report.

Strengthen the adjudicator’s role

Christine Tacon, Groceries Code Adjudicator.

Christine Tacon, Groceries Code Adjudicator.

Food suppliers and farmers are being increasingly squeezed by a bitter supermarket price war according to insolvency specialists Begbies Traynor. They report that the number of food suppliers and farmers in significant financial distress has risen 54% since last year as they bear the brunt of supermarket price wars, demands for rebates and late payments. In the second quarter of this year, 1,622 food suppliers were struggling to make ends meet and of those, 89% were small suppliers, said Begbies Traynor retail expert Julie Palmer.

It is difficult to find information about giant retailers’ profit margins – the only relevant snippet came from City Insider (below): tesco profit-marginInstead of accepting the ‘squeezing’ supplier margins as business practice, the government spotlight should fall on the supermarkets’ profit margins and a fair price for suppliers – the brief of the groceries ombudsman should be extended, enabling Christine Tacon to regulate this sector more effectively.