The Green Party today warned that the current crisis in dairy farming is just the latest manifestation of a wider crisis in our food industry that has left our food supply extremely vulnerable and raises the spectre of severe food price rises.
Our food production systems are now seen as part of a globalised market, where the trend is for more industrialisation; that puts the profits of multinationals before the health of consumers and the quality of food we eat. With a very small number of very large processors and retailers dominating the industry more and more small farmers and producers are finding that if they cannot meet the demands of these companies then there is no alternative route to market.
On a visit to the South West to talk to local Green Parties and farmers Caroline Allen, from the Green Party's Policy Committee, said 'many small scale farmers are struggling; if they can't or won't sign up to very restrictive contracts required by supermarkets then the outlets for their produce are very limited. It seems insane that vegetables grown around Exeter have to be sent to massive packing centres in the Midlands or East Anglia before being driven back here. These smaller farmers are exactly the type that we should be encouraging so we have resilience in the system and can feed ourselves into the future. There are ways we can support these farmers but the government is more interested in protecting big businesses. The Green Party is calling for a Grocery Adjudicator with real teeth and controls on the anti-competitive behaviour of processors'.
Dairy farmer and Green Party member Henry Gent said ' Its a scandal how producers can be paid less than it costs to produce something, especially when cost cutting will impact not just on the farmers and their staff but also on the welfare of the animals. It is not surprising that the number of dairy farmers has halved in ten years, and we import 20% of dairy produce, many good family farms have sold up and ceased production. Its not hard to see that the next step will be the producers and their big business cronies saying 'well as these small businesses arent viable the only answer is mega dairies'. With far too many cows already being kept indoors all the time in large dairies this is a trend we must resist. Cows should be eating grass, not soya and other protein crops shipped from across the world that ought to be feeding people. Here is the westcountry we have great pasture growing conditions, and we could have viable family dairy farms, with good positions for employees, and good cow welfare, but competition policy and taxation policy are against us. We need a different approach, which follows common sense: family farms should be treated fairly, as they are in other countries in Europe, and we have to stand up against imports of cheap food that have been produced in ways that environmentally damaging or produced with inferior animal welfare
Bristol councillor Gus Hoyt, who was involved in the campaign against a new supermarket in his ward added 'councils should be encouraging local food growing by looking at their own procurement policies and sourcing local food, helping the many small projects across the city expand. Our local fruit and vegetable market, St Phillips, needs to be protected to provide an alternative route for producers that doesnt involve the supermarkets, otherwise they will need to get produce from London or Birmingham. With everyone concerned about growing childhood obesity and questionning where much needed jobs are going to come from a healthier more localised food system is an obvious solution'.
Image by Colin Smith [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons