Friday 30 January 2009

Avoiding The Obvious Answer…

Felicity Lawrence, in the ‘Guardian’, addresses the problems of intensive farming:
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.

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.
That question is getting bigger and bigger – can you see it now, Felicity?
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’…


North Northwester said...

Julia, sometimes I think you're not paying attention.

The obvious question, which I'm sure she'll ask soon is in fact: 'How can we strengthen the powers and laws of the European Union; Parliament and Commission alike, and work on a global level with governments, food charities and NGOs to enforce sustainable, low carbon, competitive locally-based farming strategies to produce ethical, organic crops and protect European farmers from the worst excesses of globalisation?'

Nothing at all to do with leaving the EU. I mean, what good would that do? Really.Do try to keep up.

Also, thanks very much for the link.

JuliaM said...


Sue said...

Where I live in Spain, each major town has a farmers market. Each small holding (and there are thousands), takes whatever they produce to the market and gets paid a price depending on availability and demand.

In turn, the local shops then go and bid for it and are filled with this produce and it's beautifully fresh and very reasonably priced.

You only really see imported stuff in the Spanish Supermarkets and it's pretty expensive and not such good quality.

Oldrightie said...

I'm a passionate country dweller. The empty fields year round, belie the factory sheds and animal suffering. Round our way, we still have almost as smuch free range grazing as sheds.
Food is better for consumption and safer, produced from traditional farming. Swap some of the humans for the cruel conditions of many farm animals and see a difference.
Start with Civil Servants and some politicians.
Sue's got a very good point as well. We are the ones out of step and too much in the grip of global interest.

Sue said...

People laugh at it being "backward" here but it's really a much better system.

We still have the barter system here too. I fix someone's computer and they do something for me when I need it or give me a bag or fruit or fresh veg. Believe me, I have never seen spring onions the size of tennis balls before!

The people here are very set in their ways and use traditional methods and they work well.

I don't know why things changed in the UK.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, this is way off-topic.

But has anyone seen Julie Bindel's head finally explode in today's Guardian?

It's quite something. Really

North Northwester said...

staybryte said...
But has anyone seen Julie Bindel's head finally explode in today's Guardian?

Oh, brother, that takes me back. Wait till the early Eighties and the rad fems figured out that the best way to end this, form her page -

"We live in a culture in which rape is still an everyday reality"

- was to enable the USSR to sweep across Western Europe, to punish the rapists and send the NUM down the pits again and get rid of the Queen and Mrs. Thatcher so that women could finally get to the top in this country...

Ah, the reality.
Ah, the lovely clothes and haircuts and sweet little boots and the pacifism and weapons as 'toys for boys' and 'penis extensions.' My, how Che Guevara was loved for his penis extension and his pacifism.

JuliaM said...

"...gets paid a price depending on availability and demand. "

And buying produce in season ensures everything tastes better too! Strawberries in December? Well, they are strawberries right enough, but do they taste as good as UK strawberries in June?

I don't think so...

"..has anyone seen Julie Bindel's head finally explode in today's Guardian?"

Bwahahaha! 370 comments so far, overwhelmingly negative, and I hope that's a male mod protecting her honour by removing comments. That would be too sweet for words!

"Ah, the reality."

I'm not sure Bindel has a clue about reality, judging my this column...