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Covid-19 bulletin 29: Has lockdown permanently changed attitudes to British farming?

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.

Minette Batters (left), the union’s president, in a Croptec article, said the figures demonstrated a need for the Government to put food security at the top of their agenda:

“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’.

 

 

 

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COVID-19 bulletin 23: will a ‘shock-resistant food system’ be adopted?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Reuters correspondent, research scientist and environmental advisor: “There may be the seeds of some good things in this pandemic”

There are many references to the falls in levels of air pollution in the world’s cities; as Kate Abnett (left) European Climate and Energy Correspondent, writes in an article for Reuters:

“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”.

Stimulus there must surely be, but a stimulus programme which is aimed principally at the total level of gross domestic product risks worsening all the social ills of the world before the pandemic

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.

In a recent paper, Alan Simpson (below left) – in a recent paper – also notes the dramatic improvements in air quality which have come with the Covid crisis.

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”.

 

 

 

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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.

veg-2shortage

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.

A former Greenpeace Economist foresees these and more persistent problems in his latest book, Progressive Protectionism.

Read on: https://foodvitalpublicservice.wordpress.com/2017/02/03/seeking-food-supplies-from-turkey-time-for-change/

 

 

 

Corporate/political interests threatened by the public support for Corbyn’s caring policies

The corporate world continues to make vitriolic but insubstantial attacks on the Labour Party leader, whose approach threatens their unreasonably affluent lifestyles.

corbyn a threat graphic

Brief reference will be made to arms traders, big pharma, construction giants, energy companies owned by foreign governments, food speculators, the private ill-health industry and a range of polluting interests. One reflection on each sector will be given here – of many recorded on our database:

Arms trade

Steve Beauchampé: “A peacenik may lay down with some unsavoury characters. Better that than selling them weapons”. The media highlights Corbyn’s handshakes and meetings, but not recent British governments’ collusion in repressive activities, issuing permits to supply weapons to dictators. In the 80s, when lobbying Conservative MP John Taylor about such arms exports, he said to the writer, word for word: “If we don’t do it, someone else will”. Meaning if we don’t help other countries to attack their citizens, others will. How low can we sink!

Big pharma

Theresa drew attention to an article highlighting the fact that the Specialised Healthcare Alliance (SHCA), a lobbying company working for some of the world’s biggest drugs and medical equipment firms, had written the draft report for NHS England, a government quango. At the time, the latest attempt at mass-medication – this time with statins – was in the news. The world’s largest manufacturer of low-cost vaccines said that British taxpayers are paying for excessive profits earned by big Western drugs companies.

Construction

Most construction entries relate to the PFI debacle, but in 2009 it was reported that more than 100 construction companies – including Balfour Beatty, Kier Group and Carillion – had been involved in a price-fixing conspiracy and had to compensate local authority victims who had been excluded from billions of pounds of public works contracts. The Office of Fair Trading imposed £130m of fines on 103 companies. Price-fixing that had left the public and councils to “pick up the tab”.

Utilities

The Office of Fair Trading was closed before it could update its little publicised 2010 report which recorded that 40% of infrastructure assets in the energy, water, transport, and communication sectors are already owned by foreign investors. In Utility Week News, barrister Roger Barnard, former head of regulatory law at EDF Energy, wondered whether any government is able to safeguard the nation’s energy security interests against the potential for political intervention under a commercial guise. He added: “Despite what the regulators say, ownership matters”.

Food

A Lancashire farmer believes that supermarkets – powerful lobbyists and valued party funders – are driving out production of staple British food and compromising food security. She sees big business making fortunes from feeding the wealthy in distant foreign countries where the poor and the environment are exploited, also putting at risk the livelihoods of hard working British farmers and their families. 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. She ends, “They do this simply because they have the power to do so”.

Pollution

Government does not act on this, appearing to prioritise the interests of the corporate world. The influential transport lobby prevents or delays action to address air  pollutants such as ground-level ozone and particulates emitted by cars, lorries and rail engines which contribute directly to global warming, linked to climate change. Last November a report found that waste incineration facilities and cement plants across Europe, had seriously breached emission limits. Intensive agriculture’s lavish use of insecticides, pesticides and fertilizers has also released harmful chemicals into the air, in some cases causing water pollution. Manufacturing industries and petroleum refineries produce carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, organic compounds and chemicals which pollute the air. Children in areas exposed to air pollutants commonly suffer from pneumonia and asthma. The burden of particulate air pollution in the UK in 2008 was estimated to cause nearly 29,000 deaths. DEFRA’s report for 2013, however, does not refer to health impacts, though admitting serious levels of air pollution.

Some features of the corporate-political nexus summarised: victimised whistleblowers, media collusion, rewards for failure and the revolving door

  • Rewards for failure cover individual cases, most recently Lin Homer, and corporate instances. Capita, according to a leaked report by research company Gartner was two years behind schedule with its MoD online recruitment computer system – yet the government contracted to pay the company £1bn over 10 years to hire 9,000 soldiers a year for the army.
  • The 74th instance of the revolving door related to Andrew Lansley’s move from his position as government health minister to the private health sector. An investigation by the Mail found that one in three civil servants who took up lucrative private sector jobs was working in the Ministry of Defence. Paul Gosling gives a detailed list of those passing from government to the accountancy industry and vice versa.

As Steve Beauchampé reports (link to follow), there is a coterie of arch-Blairite, anti-Corbyn Labour MPs who never accepted the decisive democratic mandate Corbyn secured last autumn:

JC large rally

“Mann’s very public intervention can be interpreted as a calculated move to undermine the party’s electoral chances this Thursday . . .

“Realising that they have at best 4-5 months to try to oust him before reforms anticipated at this September’s party conference transfer crucial powers from the party hierarchy into the hands of members, the forthcoming elections will be used by Corbyn’s adversaries as an excuse to try and replace him”.

Will increasingly media-sceptical people – who support Corbyn because they seek the common good – hold firm?

 

 

Food security – producers and consumers read on

brig society header

marcus brigstockeThis week, satirist Marcus Brigstocke has ‘become a farmer’.

Listen to his ‘right on’ exposition of selling milk at below production costs here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04dqwyt

Why bother?

Because as the dairy industry declines and imports roll in at whatever cost it will be followed by a similar undercutting of

  • cereals
  • meat
  • fruit
  • vegetables

– not necessarily in that order.

Those who ignore the situation will live to regret it – in thrall to overseas suppliers of food, regardless of its quality and price.

And food producers: co-operate or go under – as unproductive parasites flourish!

Government: listen to genetic engineers’ verdict on GM food

“10 reasons we don’t need GM foods”, a new short report from genetic engineers Dr Michael Antoniou and Dr John Fagan, the authors of “GMO Myths and Truths”, is published today as a free download by the sustainability and science policy platform Earth Open Source.

Download short report:http://earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/10-reasons-we-don-t-need-gm-foods

Claire Robinson, third co-author of the new report, said:

10 reasons no GM food cover“At just 11 pages plus references, ’10 reasons’ is designed for people who may not have the time to read ‘GMO Myths and Truths’, which extends to 330 pages. ’10 reasons’ is ideal for giving to friends, family, politicians, and journalists, when a longer document is not appropriate.

” ’10 reasons’ explains that GM crops do not increase yield potential or reduce pesticide use. Nor can they help us meet the challenges of climate change any better than existing non-GM crops, or deliver more nutritious foods. GM crops have been shown to have toxic effects on laboratory and farm animals.

“There is only one way in which GM crops outperform non-GM crops: they are easier to patent in a way that guarantees ownership not only of that GM plant variety but also all plants bred from it. This process enables consolidated ownership of the seed and food market by a few large companies on a scale that has never happened before.

“That is a recipe for loss of food sovereignty and security. It is the opposite to feeding the world – the line we are constantly fed to justify the introduction of GM crops.”

“10 reasons” is based on the extensive evidence collected in “GMO Myths and Truths”.

Download full report “GMO Myths and Truths” (2nd edition published 19 May 2014):
http://earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/gmo-myths-and-truths

Contact Claire Robinson claire.robinson@earthopensource.org

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The English state juggernaut brutally rolls over its land and people

Unlike the Indian temple juggernaut which had only willing victims, the British juggernaut will roll along its hundred-metre wide track, destroying swathes of fertile land and damaging or demolishing cherished homes. 

Producing food is not important? 

At a time when there is increasing global and national awareness of the need for food security, the National Farmers Union estimates that 200 farms will be affected. 

Corporate ‘landgrab’ now extends from the ‘global south’ to Britain 

Packington Moor Farm, a fine brick Georgian farmhouse near Tamworth, Staffordshire is to be demolished and its land cut in half. The owners only heard about this plan on the internet. 

The Bakers, whose land is to be cut in half, live in the charming village of Stoneleigh, Warwickshire. Mrs Baker asked: ‘How can they consider demolishing your business and your livelihood, move three generations of a family, and not contact you? We heard from a neighbouring farmer.’ 

Listed buildings treated with contempt 

In all, 314 listed buildings, country cottages, Georgian farmhouses, medieval rectories and ancient manor houses will be demolished or seriously affected by vibration, noise and fumes if the high-speed project goes ahead.

And other species deemed less important than HS2 vested interests

Along the HS2 route, there are 43 statutory and non-statutory wildlife sites (48% of the 89 sites identified) in the Kenilworth and Southam Constituency alone. These include one Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), one local nature reserve, six local wildlife sites and numerous ancient woodlands. Location details are given on the website of the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust.  A detailed review of the potential ecological impacts of HS2 in that area by the Trust’s Stephen Trotter can be read here.  

An extract about the effect of its construction notes that it will “destroy all existing vegetation, any non-mobile species and physical structures (e.g. roosts, ponds, watercourses, burrows, setts, holts etc) used by species living in this zone. Mobile species will be displaced away from this zone and their survival will depend on the availability of suitable sites nearby.  

And the next destructive scheme will be . . .?