Category Archives: Food
Richard Harvey, Owston, Rutland who founded Manor Farm Feeds in 1986, opens with a political perspective:
Does the UK really want to become totally dependent on imported food at a time when we are witnessing a worldwide trade war led by the power-hungry leaders of the major nations? Although our politicians are paying lip service to the future support of food production, the small print indicates otherwise.
Tracy Worcester, Director of Farms not Factories, prioritises food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection
In her latest newsletter she expresses fears of a post Brexit scenario of food imported to much lower production standards undercutting British dairy products produced to higher standards, with better welfare for the animals and workers involved.
In the last newsletter she reported that, despite the pleas of many cross-party MPs, a Tory majority (names on this list) rejected amendments to the Agriculture Bill in May, banning imports produced to lower standards of food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection than those required of UK farmers.
Former environment secretary Theresa Villiers is calling for food standards to be enshrined into the Agricultural Bill, but Liam Fox, North Somerset MP, threatened “the US would walk if this amendment were to become law in the UK ”
Food swaps are turbo-charging climate change: William Taylor (Farmers for Action, NI)
The Scottish Farmer newspaper reported that William Taylor (left) took a European Commissioner to task at a Balmoral Show about long-distance ‘food swap’ deals that are at odds with commitments to cut carbon emissions.
He used the example of lamb, where the UK is self-sufficient yet exports 35% and re-imports 35%, as he put it “purely for corporate gain, yet with absolutely no benefit to farmers or consumers in either country”. UK ships leave for France and North Africa with lamb cargoes and meet ships from New Zealand laden with lamb for the UK “This is turbo-charging climate change”
Local Futures, which has campaigned on this sort of ‘insane trade’ agrees – see their graphic below:
And stresses that a shift towards the local would protect and rebuild agricultural diversity
- It would give farmers a bigger share of the money spent on food, and provide consumers with healthier, fresher food at more affordable prices.
- It would reduce transport, greenhouse gas emissions and the need for toxic agricultural chemicals.
- It would lessen the need for storage, packaging, refrigeration and artificial additives,
- and it would help revitalize rural economies and communities in both the industrialized and the developing world.
Minette Batters, NFU president focusses on increasing self-sufficiency:
“While we recognise the need for importing food which can only be produced in different climates, if we maximise on the food that we can produce well in the UK then that will deliver a whole host of economic, social and environmental benefits to the country.
Home-grown food production must have the unwavering support of Government if we are to achieve this post-Brexit.”
Local Futures’ message is clear: “If the many social, environmental and economic crises facing the planet are to be resolved, start by rebuilding local food economies”.
A Hockley Agro UK article asked if lockdown has permanently changed attitudes to British farming. It pointed out that when demand soars in a crisis and global supply chains are frustrated, having food available locally is of paramount importance. Locally grown food creates important economic opportunities, provides health benefits and helps to reduce environmental impact. Eating what is produced here in the UK is key to reducing food miles and avoiding unnecessary packaging. It ends:
“Producing food within our shores is vital to support the economy, help maintain high levels of animal welfare, control sustainability and assist in improving soil heath. To suggest an end to agriculture as an industry would mean an end to large agricultural employers and local family farms alike”.
Camilla Hodgson reports that the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has warned the UK would run out of food in just seven months if it relied solely on homegrown produce. Self-sufficiency in food has stagnated with government figures showing that Britain produced only 61% of its own food in 2017, a rate in long-term decline.
“The statistics show a concerning long-term decline in the UK’s self-sufficiency in food and there is a lot of potential for this to be reversed. And while we recognise the need for importing food which can only be produced in different climates, if we maximise on the food that we can produce well in the UK then that will deliver a whole host of economic, social and environmental benefits to the country. Home-grown food production must have the unwavering support of Government if we are to achieve this post-Brexit.”
Richard Harvey Owston, Rutland who founded Manor Farm Feeds in 1986, asks if the UK really wants to become totally dependent on imported food at a time when we are witnessing a worldwide trade war led by the power-hungry leaders of the major nations.
He fears that, although our politicians are paying lip service to the future support of food production, ‘the small print indicates otherwise’.
On January 8th, prime minister Boris Johnson told European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen that Britain would insist on “maintaining control of UK fishing waters” after it leaves the EU.
During his first meeting with Ms von der Leyen, the prime minister laid down his terms, insisting that any trade deal with the EU must be complete by the end of 2020 and that Britain would “not align” with the bloc’s rules.
An EU condition for future trade & financial services deals is access to the UK’s fish-rich waters
In January, Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar warned of a fish-for-financial-services Brexit clash on the 27th, suggesting that the City of London could lose access to European markets unless the UK opens up its coastal waters to EU boats. Britain has long suspected that Brussels would demand continued EU access to the UK’s fish-rich waters as a condition of a future trade deal, with an explicit link being drawn to an agreement on financial services.
Alex Barker notes that French, Dutch, Belgian, Swedish and Danish fishing fleets are highly dependent on operating in UK waters, and abruptly losing access would potentially deal a devastating shock to many coastal communities. In what he describes as “an admission of the bloc’s vulnerable position over the politically sensitive industry”, Brussels has recognised that EU member states may need to negotiate country-by-country fishing deals to access to UK waters if there is a no-deal Brexit.
In March, the first round of negotiations on the EU’s future relationship with the UK in Brussels took place. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said the meetings highlighted areas of “very serious divergence”:
- the role of the European Court of Justice,
- Britain’s determination not to align with EU rules and standards,
- and Britain’s insistence that fishing rights to its waters must be decided by annual negotiations with the EU (Norway-style model).
The BBC reports that in the latest round of UK-EU trade talks this week, there were detailed discussions on access to UK fishing waters and other top EU priorities this week. The UK’s negotiator David Frost said a far-reaching free trade agreement could be agreed before the end of the year “without major difficulties”, but it was being held up by the EU’s desire to “bind” the UK to its laws and seek unfair access to fishing waters.
Boris Johnson ruled out any agreement that guarantees EU fishermen’s long-term access to British waters and also rejected EU demands for a binding “level playing field” of labour market, environmental and competition standards that would draw heavily on European law.
Mr Barnier stated clearly that the EU will never agree a trade deal with Britain unless access to UK fishing waters and the level playing field arrangements are settled to the bloc’s satisfaction.
Robin Healey foresees that French labour unions ‘in solidarity, no doubt, with their fishermen confrères, the French port, customs, immigration, dock and railway workers’, could paralyse all Calais-Dover transport facilities and no commercial or private traffic could move in either direction.
In its detailed account the FT’s George Parker explains that the 26-mile Dover-Calais route (above) is a commercial and physical chokepoint for the UK. No other cross-Channel route can match its two-way traffic capacity; Dover’s roll-on roll-off ferries handle about 10,000 trucks on a busy day, many carrying perishable goods.
Barker suggests the development of east coast ports for greater “roll-on, roll-off” ferry traffic in the event of disruption in France. This would allow Britain to carry out more trade with Belgium or the Netherlands. Business Live reports that a new daily service from Calais to Tilbury, is saving up to 75 road miles each day compared with the Calais-Dover crossing, using less fuel and landing goods on London’s ‘doorstep’.
As strikes by French fishermen have previously blocked Calais, Parker warns that Mr Johnson’s ‘hardball negotiating tactics’ on fishing quotas in post-Brexit trade talks risk triggering another protest – and as Healey says “the UK will be truly cut off, not the Continent”.
Which side will blink first? The UK faces disruption of supplies, but as a bloc, EU countries sell more goods to the UK than vice-versa, so would seem to have more to lose in financial terms.
Since the coronavirus pandemic took over and some supermarket egg and flour shelves are still bare here – and in parts of America – there has been greater public awareness of the fragility of our food system.
An earlier post said: “After 50 years of unjust returns for perishable produce, the coronavirus is beginning to affect food imports, just as bombing and submarines did during the last war”.
As one article in Prospect magazine commented earlier this month, supermarkets currently dominate the retail sector, with the “Big Four” often lobbying together and using their significant bargaining power to push down prices paid to farmers.
It is widely quoted that in 2016, according to ‘official estimates’, producers on average received 9p for every pound spent in a supermarket, compared with 45-60 per cent of the money consumers spent on food in the 1950s.
Yasemin Craggs Mersinoglu reports that more farms have turned to home delivery services and a YouGov survey has found that three million people are trying box schemes or buying food from a local farm for the first time.
A Share of The Crop, a veg box supplier which sources produce from southeast England, received a year’s worth of additional orders during a single week in March.
Lauren Simpson, a farmer based in West Wales, hopes that this shift to local food will create a fair transition into a more sustainable food system.
She is a member of the Landworkers Alliance which is lobbying for the government to build a shock-resistant food system.
An emergency support fund for small farms during the pandemic, would be followed by provision of grants to new entrants to the industry, citing the need to grow more food in the UK and further assistance to create local supply chains, processing facilities and distribution networks.
To these measures should be added promotion of the Ripple Farm model: good practice which attracts reliable local workers (right):
- holiday pay,
- sick pay
- good protective clothing
- year-round employment five days a week,
- job rotation: a hard stint outdoors in the morning, balanced by a less arduous indoor job in packing and admin in the afternoon.
Security: relying on imports or increasing the supply of home-grown food?
The government has consistently asserted that improving international trade relationships is the route to food security, but, as climate instability and Covid-19 have shown, the UK is vulnerable to global political, economic and public health challenges.
Yasemin concludes that short supply chains, with veg boxes and comparable schemes supplying fresh fruit, dairy and poultry, are not only better for the environment — they also help small producers to get a fair price by enabling smallholder farmers and smaller-scale retailers to sell directly to members of the public. They are then in control, having direct support from their community, no longer harassed by overnight order changes by the big supermarkets.
Current trade negotiations: government is ‘presently’ not adjusting its food welfare and safety standards to align with the US
Last week Rachel Wearmouth reported that UK chief trade negotiator Oliver Griffiths, in a letter to his US counterpart, agreed that anyone given access to information about any agreement reached will be warned that they cannot share it with the public. Moreover, the information will be held in confidence for five years after a US-UK trade agreement enters into force, or five years after the close of negotiations – a proposal made during the failed TTIP negotiations between America and the EU.
The government said agreeing terms on confidential documents was standard practice and that negotiators had committed to updating the public after every round of talks.
Liz Truss, international trade secretary, is overseeing the UK-US negotiations.
Today, an FT article reports that Liz Truss (Department for International Trade) is preparing to offer a “big concession package” to US negotiators and drawing up plans to slash tariffs on US agricultural imports, despite concerns from some ministers and Conservative MPs about the damage they could cause to British farming.
This measure has divided Conservatives; it is said to be opposed by Cabinet office minister Michael Gove and environment secretary George Eustice, who is concerned that cheaper US goods may undercut UK farmers. The FT also reports that senior DEFRA figures are concerned that reducing tariffs could be “the thin end of the wedge”, leading to further UK concessions on animal welfare standards, but officials added that government was ‘presently’ not adjusting its food welfare and safety standards to align with the US.
Nick von Westenholz (above), director of EU exit and international trade at the National Farmers’ Union, said that any concessions UK negotiators give on market access must be accompanied by clear conditions on how those goods have been produced, in line with the government’s own red lines in trade negotiations, repeated in their 2019 election manifesto. The Tory pledge:
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
Some shortening of global supply chains is inevitable . . . the pandemic has exposed just how far even the richest nations are from strategic self-sufficiency (associate editor, FT).
Certain vested interests are increasingly un-nerved by the Government’s acknowledgement of the crucial role played by food producers
As the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) notes: post-COVID-19, politicians have learnt to celebrate ‘more than four million hidden heroes’ who work in Britain’s farm‑to-fork supply chain (but not yet to insist that they receive a fair price for their heroism, we add). There is a growing recognition in political circles that food security requires a return to post-war levels of production.
Processors, export/importers and commodity speculators call to arms . . .
The FDF said – in a letter co-signed by 30 trade bodies this week – that ministers must fight to keep goods moving around the world after the pandemic has shown how essential global supply chains are for feeding consumers. On 18th March it launched a survey (above), hoping to gain support for its cause.
In a Telegraph article FDF warns that long supply chains must continue, stressing that ‘free trade’ is critical to economic recovery – aka their profits?
They write: “The British food and drink industry is an international success story. The country exports more than £23 billion worth of high-quality products each year”. This ‘success’ depends on exporting British produce and importing not only tropical fruits but beef, lamb and apples, easily available here – see The Great Food Swap, Lucas, (research: Hines, Hurd, Jones). And who profits from this polluting activity? Certainly not the average British farmer.
The alternative: more local, accountable and inclusive
As huge numbers of small suppliers are currently left stranded by the closure of local cafes, hotels and restaurants and vulnerable households can’t even get onto the telephone or internet queues for supermarket deliveries, Alan Simpson (right) – in a recent paper – notes that we grow only half of our own food needs.
“Internationally, buffer stocks of food are getting caught up in siege mentalities. Domestic needs will come before international trade . . . It won’t stop there. Floods and drought across Europe and beyond will cause mayhem with global food supply . . . food security is not going to be delivered by any compact between government, the army and the big supermarkets. The alternative needs to be more local, accountable and inclusive”.
William Sitwell’s (British) sheep farmer friend seethed
“Freezing lamb, putting it on a ship and sending it on a 12,000-mile journey to a country that produces the best lamb in the world is simply ridiculous . . . Supermarkets would retort that they stock the best cuts, when in season – which suggests there is not enough British lamb currently available”.
Not so, Sitwell points out: “Breeds such as the Dorset, for example, can lamb in November, but a lack of grass in winter makes the meat more expensive as farmers have to pay for feed”. Supermarkets have failed to invest in farmers rearing these types of animals in favour of cheaper meat from, say, New Zealand, causing a vicious circle: less British lamb available, so demand remains low and prices stay high.
Arch-exponent Helena Norberg-Hodge (left) addresses the issue of local, accountable food production and distribution in the latest episode of Russell Brand’s podcast, ‘Under the Skin’
Pre-COVID-19, Pantheon Economics recorded that world trade had already fallen “sharply,” dropping 1.4% in the year to June 2019 (text & photo: Business Insider). Arjun Kapur, New York Investment strategist, asserts in a letter to the FT’s editor that “2020 will go down as the year of ‘deglobalisation’ “.
He suggests, “Company leaders and world leaders would be wise to ditch their reliance on vulnerable supply chains in favour of more resilient, self-sufficient means of delivering health, economic, and business outcomes for their constituents and shareholders. The ship of globalisation is sailing away”.
31st March 2020
It’s the Farmers who supply what fills supermarket shelves
“People have to eat to live. therefore food will always be needed and should never, never be taken for granted”.
So states Farmers For Action’s William Taylor in Northern Ireland (below centre). He went on to point out that life on the UK’s farms is not getting any easier as COVID-19 tightens its grip. Nevertheless, credit must go to our NHS front line staff, care workers and all the cleaning staff trying to fight this invisible enemy with every ounce of dedication and commitment they have!
Down on the farm nature waits for nobody, as lambs and calves are born and spring work in the fields is in full swing and must be done, in order to plant, sow and tend growing crops already in the ground. The NHS is bringing back to work retired doctors and nurses which is great to witness
In this emergency in the farming world however, our over 55’s have never retired in the first place, with the average age of UK farmers now approximately 58 years of age.
These brave souls, their families and staff put the majority of the food on your table daily. A few of the older ones still at work started off working on the farm with horses and milking their cows by hand, what stories they can tell and experiences they can give to a dwindling number of young farmers of what they have witnessed in their lifetime, but always with one constant, which is – people have to eat to live therefore food will always be needed and should never, never be taken for granted.
However, just like the Second World War, farmers in N Ireland and across the UK are finding it hard to purchase daily farm needs such as repair services and many more of the 123 average suppliers needed to keep the UK’s farms running on a daily basis and even worse now many of their local livestock markets have closed, causing additional cash flow problems.
As always farmers are resilient, but their families and workforce are also vulnerable to COVID19, as cases confirm, they also need staff to replace them during anticipated recovery as nature doesn’t wait. They too are finding it difficult to recruit and pay staff of the right calibre, capable of attending to robot milking parlours, capable of operating tractors with computer controls, capable of spotting a sick animal across a field and attending to it, capable of knowing when to carry out the next dressing to a crop and what type of weather is required to do so.
Lastly, we must not forget the haulage industry, who with increasing difficulties due to COVID19 eg collecting the milk from dairy farms daily for your morning cornflakes, are trying to carry on with staff shortages. This army of haulage workers and drivers move your food daily, representing 57% of the freight that always moves on the UK’s roads in order to feed you.
Food from farmers to your fork, spoon and cup is the gift that farmers from across the UK deliver to everyone 24/7 365 days a year, while the NHS army attends to all those who are sick. We must take our hats off to these people who collectively cannot afford to get sick themselves for your sake!
Next week FFA will give a further report on the increasing difficulties farmers are facing to keep food on your table. Meanwhile, don’t forget to support your local family owned shops, butchers, bakers, greengrocers where food currently abounds and without queues in many cases.
56 Cashel Road Coleraine BT51 4NU Tel. 07909744624
Reuters correspondent, research scientist and environmental advisor: “There may be the seeds of some good things in this pandemic”
“Air pollution has decreased in urban areas across Europe during lockdowns to combat the coronavirus, new satellite images showed on Monday. Air pollution can cause or exacerbate lung cancer, pulmonary disease and strokes. China also recorded a drop in nitrogen dioxide pollution in cities during February, when the government imposed draconian lockdown measures to contain the raging epidemic”.
Dr David Wilson (right) – geologist and earth scientist – points out in the Financial Times the effect on economic output of the changes brought about by coronavirus. “Some of us will be travelling less. Some might seek a different trade-off between work and leisure. Carmakers might cut their excess production capacity”. He continues:
“I cannot be the only one to think that less air travel, more leisure, and not quite so many cars on the roads might all be rather good things”.
The trouble comes from economists and financial journalists who, despite their best intentions, find it impossible to abandon the idea that GDP is good in itself (and that more must be better). Dr Wilson says that this ‘axiom of so much modern policymaking’ must be abandoned. ’The point of government is not to ensure economic output of so much per head of population, it is to give citizens the chance of good lives bailouts of businesses and households must learn from the mistakes of 2008 and protect the small and vulnerable.
He comments: “If we’re to learn anything it is that ‘recovery planning’ should not begin by re-ﬁlling the streets with a problem our children’s lungs didn’t need in the ﬁrst place. Putting clean before dirty must be at the heart of post-crisis planning. It would mark the end of neoliberalism’s Armageddon economics”. He later focusses on strategic ‘food supply’ issues.
“Internationally, buffer stocks of food are getting caught up in siege mentalities. Kazakhstan, one of the world’s biggest shippers of wheat ﬂour, has banned its export. The same ban applies to carrots, sugar and potatoes. Serbia has stopped exporting sunﬂower oil and other food goods. Russia is weighing up whether to follow suit. It won’t stop there. Wild weather across Europe and beyond is causing mayhem with global food supply. Domestic needs will come before international trade . . .
“We may grow only half our own food needs but, right now, Britain requires some 70,000 seasonal workers to pick the fruit and veg sitting in farms across the country. Besides cutting the UK’s ‘food imports’ bill (£50bn/p.a) this is an essential part of feeding the public. If the government is looking to deploy the Army in the midst of the crisis, at least let them begin as a Land Army . . .
“Food security is not going to be delivered by any compact between government, the army and the big supermarkets. The alternative needs to be more local, accountable and inclusive. Huge numbers of small suppliers are currently left stranded by the closure of local cafes, hotels and restaurants. Huge numbers of vulnerable households can’t even get onto the telephone or internet queues for supermarket deliveries. This is the moment when Britain should give new powers to local authorities; to be the binding between local supply, local need and the networks of volunteers offering to bring the two together”.
Dr Wilson sums up: ‘There may be the seeds of some good things in this pandemic — a fairer society, with more time for family than for chasing money, a decline in environmental destruction — and any sweeping government intervention ought to try to nurture them”.
Farmers For Action (Northern Ireland) earlier this month issued a statement about the recent “leaked” emails in the press from Treasury Advisor Dr Tim Leunig, arguing that the UK food sector is not critically important to the economy and that agriculture and fishery production certainly isn’t. This implies that UK farmers aren’t so important and UK agriculture can be the sacrificial lamb in US crunch post Brexit talks.
In their press release (click to read) they point out that the food that UK farmers produce translates into by far the biggest industry in the UK by tonnage and on top of this accounts for 60%+ of all transported goods throughout the UK
Leunig pointed to the example of Singapore, an island city-state that imports almost all of its food, as a model for Britain; he makes no reference to what happened in the Second World War when the UK almost starved as food importing ships were being sunk – and here we are again with unforeseen circumstances of the coronavirus COVID-19.
The UK produces safe quality food to EU high standards with the Minister for the Environment indicating these will continue and backing up the UK farmers as best his brief will allow him, bar the influence of people like Dominic Cummings and Dr Leunig.
The UK has declared a climate change emergency, therefore there is no justification for importing beef or importing dairy products or chicken or any produce in which we are self-sufficient or buy from our nearest neighbours.
William Taylor (FFA) added that this government must be held to account about the carbon footprint caused by importing food products we don’t need from the US and other countries around the world. Instead all the food produced by UK farmers should be used before importing any shortfall from the nearest neighbour.
The key in all these climate change destructive food swaps is that they benefit profiteering corporate food retailers, corporate food wholesalers, corporate shipping companies and to a lesser extend corporate food processors and not the thousands of farming families or the environment in either food swap country.
In the case of lamb where the UK is self-sufficient, the nonsense of exporting 38% of lamb to France and North Africa only to meet ships coming from Australia and New Zealand loaded with lamb must end!
It is time for Boris Johnson and his government to wake up and realise that climate change is no respecter of majority governments and will only respect change of human activity on a global scale of which we are part = and so far this is not happening.
As climate change tightens its grip, we must not forget all those farming families and others flooded out of their homes and farms across the UK due to the increasing climate change extremes of weather.
FFA conclude by saying that they and all other like-minded farm organisations across these islands pledge from here onward to put an end to the UK government’s propaganda. Let battle commence!
Farmers For Action
56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, N Ireland, BT51 4NU
Tel. 07909744624 Email : email@example.com
PRESS RELEASE 4th March 2020
Will Corbyn/Labour’s industrial strategy guarantee fair production costs for perishable food – or rely on the global market?
“It is simply not right that any worker should have to sell their product for less than it costs them to produce them, and this is acutely felt by dairy farmers.”
Countryfile, reviewing Jeremy Corbyn’s “Rural Renewal” report, continued to quote: “A combination of a small number of very large milk processers operating as suppliers to retailers, supermarkets operating a ‘price war’ forcing down the cost of milk, and milk co-ops losing their power has resulted in thousands of dairy farmers finding it harder and harder to make ends meet, let alone make a profit.”
Corbyn said “we will work with all parties to ensure that customers are offered a price they can afford for their milk, but not at the expense of farmers whose very livelihoods depend on it. This will include investigating regulating supermarkets to prevent below cost selling.”
Factories don’t sell their products at a loss, but those producing perishable food are often required to do so. It’s so 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.
Seven years ago Telegraph View pointed out that some supermarkets pay less for milk than it costs to produce. Nothing has changed! Prices sometimes drop to the 1990s level but all other costs have risen steeply.
Confidence in successive governments continues to fall as the country has become increasingly dependent on imported food – which now even includes tomatoes from Morocco and eggs and poultry from Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
A Fairtrade Policy Director noted that ‘The unpleasant and aggressive tough love lobby’ which has cut social and healthcare, education and public transport doesn’t spare family farmers
Corbyn on a Cumbrian farm, pledging to do “everything necessary” to stop no-deal Brexit carnage for famrers
No thoughts of love – or natural justice – appeared in the Oxford Farming Conference address of Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who blamed the ‘difficult world market’ for low milk prices and focussed on farming’s ‘huge export potential’, rejoicing that ‘we now grow chillies which we export to Pakistan and Mexico’.
Barbara Crowther (right), by far the best Fairtrade Foundation Director of Policy & Public Affairs (2009-2017), said “There is a very unpleasant and aggressive tough love lobby out there who simply do not understand the importance of locally sourced food and the underlying food security issues which are only going to get worse as the global population grows”. She asked “Could we make our Mark work on milk?”. This link to that (now unwelcome?) reference has been removed.
It’s a fair question and is something that has been looked at, and discussed many times – not least as part of a ‘Local and Fair’ conference a few years ago, bringing Fairtrade and Cumbrian farmers groups together to discuss the issues they hold in common, co-ordinated by Joe Human (see Barbara in video at that conference).
MP Anne McIntosh (below, who chaired the parliamentary Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, for several years, urged the Government to intervene, after it was reported that 60 dairy farmers went out of business in one month alone. EFRA wanted the Groceries Code which covers suppliers to the big supermarkets and retailers, to be extended to include dairy farmers – but soon afterwards, the estimable Ms McIntosh was deselected. Now in the Lords she is campaigning for the farming interests threatened by Brexit
The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers insists that all supermarkets could pay dairy farmers a price for milk that would meet the cost of production without increasing the price charged to the consumer: they would just need to accept a slightly lower profit on the milk they sell.
Placing the issue third after Angora goats and use of level crossings, the BBC, in a video link no longer working, gave priority to the destructive comments of the establishment economist, Sean Rickard.
Apparently unaware of economic interdependence – the knock-on effect to other industries and the rural economy – Sean Rickard tells farmers that if they can’t manage under these conditions, ‘they should give up making milk and live off the subsidy’.
In fact, as Clitheroe dairy farmer Kathleen Calvert often points out, the whole rural economy is affected as farmers lose income. Each working dairy farm returns a huge amount of money back into the wider economy, supporting many other regional businesses, and therefore helping to provide jobs for many. Each dairy farm that ceases to trade has a knock-on effect on the surrounding community and the economy, due to a loss of income to many other businesses. From press release, link no longer works. Instead see a briefer reference in Lancashire Life.
The key message “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”.
Dairy farmers are compelled to pay a levy to DairyCo/AHDB, a body set up by government, which, consultant Ian Potter (above right) notes, has received – and spent – more than £1 million extra as a result of the increase in production. 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!” He continues: “In my opinion we now need a campaign to promote the buying of British dairy products using British milk . . . 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 unproductive internet bound speculators can ‘make a killing’ – nowadays more often crouched over their computer screens.