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.
The corporate world continues its vitriolic but insubstantial attacks on the Labour Party leader whose approach threatens their unreasonably affluent lifestyles. Will increasingly media-sceptical people who seek the common good be affected by them?
In brief, the reference is 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. Examples of the damaging political-corporate nexus are given here – a few 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!
Reader Theresa drew our 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. This was when the latest attempt at mass-medication – this time with statins – was in the news.
Most construction entries related 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”.
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, whether by Gazprom, OPEC, or a sovereign wealth fund. He added: “Despite what the regulators say, ownership matters”. 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 were already owned by foreign investors.
A Lancashire farmer believes that supermarkets – powerful lobbyists and valued party funders – are driving out production of staple British food supplies and compromising our food security. She sees big business seeking to make a fortune from feeding the wealthy in distant foreign countries where the poor and the environment are both exploited. These ‘greedy giants’ are exploiting the poor across the world and putting at risk the livelihoods of hard working British farmers, their families and their communities. She adds that 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.
Government resistance to funding long-term out of work illness/disability benefits followed the publication of a monograph by the authors funded by America’s ‘corporate giant’ Unum Provident Insurance which influenced the policy of successive governments. After various freedom of information requests, the DWP published the mortality figures of the claimants who had died in 11 months in 2011 whilst claiming Employment and Support Allowance, with 10,600 people dying in total and 1300 people dying after being removed from the guaranteed monthly benefit, placed into the work related activity group regardless of diagnosis, forced to prepare for work and then died trying. Following the public outrage once the figures were published, the DWP have consistently refused to publish updated death totals. Information touched on in this 2015 article has been incorporated into a ResearchGate report identifying the influence of Unum Provident over successive UK governments since 1992, the influence of a former government Chief Medical Officer and the use of the Work Capability Assessments conducted by the private sector – described as state crime by proxy, justified as welfare reform.
The powerful 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. They emit some common air pollutants that have serious effects on human health and the environment. Children in areas exposed to air pollutants commonly suffer from pneumonia and asthma.
Victimised whistleblowers, media collusion, rewards for failure and the revolving door
- A recent whistleblower report records that Dr Raj Mattu is one of very few to be vindicated and compensated after years of suffering. The government does not implement its own allegedly strengthened whistleblower legislation to protect those who make ‘disclosures in the public interest’.
- This media article relates to the mis-reporting of the Obama-Corbyn meeting: there are 57 others on this site.
- Rewards for failure cover individual cases, most recently Lin Homer, and corporate instances: Serco and G4S were bidding for a MoD £400m 10-year deal, though they had been referred to the Serious Fraud Office for overcharging the government on electronic monitoring contracts. Another contender, 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 had 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: Last year 394 civil servants applied to sell their skills to the highest bidder – and 130 were MoD personnel. Paul Gosling describes how the Big Four accountancy firms have PFI ‘under their thumbs’ and gives a detailed list of those passing from government to the accountancy industry and vice versa.
Steve Beauchampé asks if the barrage of criticism apparently aimed at Jeremy Corbyn is more about undermining the politics he stands for which are probably less far to the left than those of many in the current government are to the right. Most political commentators and opponents aren’t worried that Labour will win a General Election under him, but they are alarmed that the movement his leadership has created might one day lead to an electable left winger.
. . . if they continue to ‘reboot’ farm policy in favour of small family farms
“Not only do small family farms (defined as covering less than 250 acres and requiring the labour of one or two people) employ more people per acre and provide a wider variety of locally produced food than larger farms, but there is increasing evidence that they are less damaging to the environment.”
This passage in the latest Private Eye (1429) mentioned research findings published in a new state funded study carried out in the Netherlands and an online search added detail from the FT.
Dr Lidwien Smit, an environmental epidemiologist at Utrecht University, found that the biggest contribution to deaths linked with air pollution in Europe comes from agriculture, as risky to breathe as that in a traffic congested city.
She recommends that intensive farms in particular should be subjected to the same strict pollution rules as other industries.
In September, the study was presented to the European Respiratory Society’s international congress in London. Professor Stephen Holgate, the society’s science council chair said that the findings underline the need for governments to take tougher action on farm pollution: “It raises a very important issue; there needs to be much better monitoring of intensive farming’s pollution plumes that spread out across the neighbourhood”.
Private Eye reports that DEFRA is to use part of a £16m EU emergency dairy aid fund to help farmers ‘hit’ by very low milk prices to encourage grass-based farming systems.
The NFU, whose ‘lobby’ is often said to be dominated by large farmers that pay the biggest subscriptions) has, however, made ‘counter proposals’.
The farmer who writes for Private Eye, hopes – as we do – that DEFRA will ‘stick to its guns’ and also that all the UK’s regional governments and national assemblies will go on to make discrimination in favour of small-scale family farms central to farm policy in post-Brexit Britain.
Government should keep pre-election promise and install a supermarket adjudicator – with teeth – now
The promise to ensure that supermarkets deal fairly with food producers
11 years after the findings of the Competition Commission, under the current timetable, a full Bill is not due until after May 2012. The Adjudicator might not be in place until 2014 or 2015.
Why? The bill has cross-party support
As noted on an Indian website, large corporations and government are very close. The large supermarkets give donations to party funds and sponsor conference events.
They also offer lucrative full or part-time appointments to bolster the incomes of friendly MPs, Lords, civil servants and advisers, some of whom who pass forwards and backwards through the revolving door between government and corporate employment, taking with them their influence, contacts and inside information.
They can afford the estimated low administration costs
Panorama tonight: unfair dealings with customers as well as food producers revealed: The truth about supermarket ‘bargains’
India’s government is reported to have put on hold plans to open up the retail market to global supermarket chains.
Just days after approving long-awaited proposals to raise the limits on foreign investment, a government ally said he had been told the policy was suspended.
The decision to allow chains such as Walmart and Tesco into India has sparked fierce opposition.
Critics fear the move would destroy millions of jobs and businesses.
When will our government bring in the long-promised retail adjudicator with powers to fine unjust supermarket dealings?
It has cross-party support.
But the supermarkets who oppose it are donors to party funds and sponsor conferences . . .
MP David Drew writes:
“From my perspective it is time to clip the wings of some of the supermarkets. Tesco alone now has 32% of the UK grocery market.
Wrestling back some degree of control from them is long overdue. As consumers let alone producers we have nothing to lose but our chains which have been continually yanked by those really in power.”