Watch any of the programmes and it's hard not to be moved by their conclusion: that surely a few extra pence for a rasher of bacon is worth it to end the brutal conditions endured by the average foreign pig. Putting our money where our sentiment is could help save British farmers at the same time, since our pig industry is required by law to meet higher welfare standards than on the continent, meaning they are being undercut by continental producers.Then surely the question we need to ask is why are we held to higher standards if our fellows in the EU are not?
Yet there is an unspoken question every time campaigners try to improve our diets: can people on low incomes afford to spend more on their food? These admirable films and the acres of coverage they have inspired have all pointed to the same end: labelling should be better, then consumers can make better choices, and who could begrudge a small price rise?Ummm, how about the people who don’t have the money to pay for your conscience, and that of a few TV chefs, and who don’t really care what quality their food is, so long as they can put some on the table? They can just eat cake, in your view, can they…?
The economic model on which today's intensive production is built disconnects what we pay at the till from what we pay as citizens. Paradoxically, it is a model that hits the poor hardest, and it is one that has been developed by government action, not by consumer choice. Only a radical overhaul of this so-called "cheap food" policy will ensure we have a system that is both affordable for everyone and sustainable morally and financially.You know, I think it likely that whatever system we have, Felicity isn’t going to go hungry, or have to juggle buying a loin of pork against buying petrol or paying for the electricity meter.
So she can whine all she likes about ‘morals’ and ‘sustainability’, but she’s not going to find many takers in the teeth of a recession…
We as taxpayers have to pay for this cheap food in so many other ways. As climate change bites, the bill for it will only get bigger.Oh, I was forgetting ‘climate change’, which rumbles on, and on, and on. Even though the cracks are beginning to show in even the seemingly-unnassailable proponents of this discredited ‘theory’.
Cheap feed has been provided largely thanks to huge subsidies from the US and the EU. Without them this new livestock model would not be economic. American taxpayers subsidised US soya producers who delivered high protein for feed to the tune of $13bn between 1998 and 2004; EU taxpayers have not only subsidised grains for intensive animal rearing, but have paid for millions of euros of export subsidies given to large transnationals.Indeed, Felicity. So, ask the question, why don’t you?
Subsidies have promoted the emergence of dominant corporations. Just two companies provide two-thirds of British pork: Danish Crown, and Vion, the Dutch company that took over Grampian, our own largest poultry and pig producer, last year. Danish Crown received €84m from the European Union's common agricultural policy in the five years to 2005. It was deals between governments over the last 50 years that saw the Americans keep their protections for soya, and gain greater access to our feed markets, as the price for Europe keeping its own agricultural subsidies.That question is getting bigger and bigger – can you see it now, Felicity?
The effect of these distortions has been to impoverish small farmers around the world, not just in Britain, and not just in the pig industry; you could substitute almost any country and any kind of small-scale livestock farmer - dairy, poultry or beef - for the pig farmers currently in focus.
What these latest programmes will do, I hope, is stir up enough discontent for the policymakers to address the real problems. The question is not should we pay more - but can we afford at all a system that threatens to leave us without a sustainable food production base just as climate change makes local British farming more vital than ever?No, I guess she just doesn’t want to write the words ‘Abolish the CAP’, or even ‘Leave the EU’…