[nafex] Farm prices and the "Walmart effect"
Kieran or Donna
redherring at tnaccess.com
Mon Mar 5 10:04:48 EST 2001
The strange world of huge businesses keeping prices down takes it's toll on
small business in general, but especially on farmers as their products are
usually perishable. For Ed, Joe, and Fluff in particular, if Walmart did
not have cheap apple trees with labels saying "Red Delicious" "Golden
Delicious" and "Winesap" on them, and pear trees with "Bartlett pear" on
them (I realize the labeling is whimisical, except for the Red Delicious,
which is wrongly named in a different way)..if Walmart did not have those
trees for sale, would reputable nurseries do more business? I just tried to
head a friend off at the pass last week, telling her not to buy there. It's
just so simple for them to do it. Or will there always be charlatons to
sell cheap, mass produced and mislabeled trees? I know otherwise
intelligent people who buy from these places. I saw a camellia with it's
tag in a woman's yard, told her it wouldn't survive here. She said she
didn't think Lowe's would sell it if it couldn't grow here.
The problem of prices and profits has led to all sorts of strange goings
on in the agricultural world. If any of you would like the info I picked up
on the Foot and Mouth epidemic in Britain, (and conditions behind it) I'd be
glad to forward it, just ask. I think I will include one article from the
Guardian. Incidentally, when I think of global warming (which may be just
about to end, due to a recent drop in solar activity. We ARE overdue for an
ice age, you know), and the need to conserve on oil supplies, (not to
mention fascinating new diseases looking for a ride to new territories) I
just can't figure out why ANYONE in their right mind would want to promote
"The Global Economy" "World Trade" etc. Donna
Sins of the superstores visited on us
It is big profits not 'cheap' food to blame for the latest farming crisis
Special report: Foot and mouth disease
Thursday March 1, 2001
"You enterprised a railroad through the valley," John Ruskin charged the
railway companies in 1889. "The valley is gone, and the gods with it; and
now every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool
in Bakewell at Buxton." God knows what he would have made of the
21st-century livestock trade.
Today, every sheep in Northumberland can be at Devon in half a day, and
every sheep in Devon at Northumberland. And, as the government discovered to
its astonishment this week, their diseases travel with them. Why is this
happening? Almost everyone, radical commentators included, agrees that it's
because the public wants "cheap food". They're wrong.
There's no doubt that the modern food economy encourages long-distance
transport. Between 1965 and 1998, the international trade in food tripled,
to 600m metric tonnes. In Britain, the transport of milk has increased
30-fold since 1980. To meet the demands of the global economy, livestock
hauliers routinely break the rules requiring them to rest, feed and water
the animals they are transporting, in some cases all the way from Britain to
But of one thing we can be sure: none of this has anything to do with the
needs of consumers. This myth can be dismissed by means of a complex
research procedure called going shopping. In my home town, independent
butchers selling local meat charge some 30% less than the superstores. Even
the organic lamb on sale in the farmers' market marginally undercuts the
poisoned produce the big chains sell.
Yet the superstores, as they often boast, are far more efficient than small
shops. They exert an iron grip on their suppliers, they employ just
one-fifth of the staff per unit of turnover, they enjoy, in most places,
lower business rates. Consumers have not benefited from these economies. The
current epidemic of foot and mouth is the result of structural market
changes introduced solely to safeguard the profits of the superstores.
They buy, for example, only from the biggest farmers, employing the fewest
staff. This means that more animals are crammed together, with fewer people
to check their state of health. They lobby to ensure that the burden of
regulation falls not on them and their suppliers, but on small business.
This is one of the reasons why so many local abattoirs have collapsed in
Britain, forcing farmers to send their animals ever further afield.
Ironically, the food poisoning which helped justify the tighter inspection
regime is mostly the result of the large-scale agro-industry the su
permarkets have encouraged: the sins of the giants are visited upon the
They have lobbied, too, to be allowed to cheat their customers by changing
the rules on provenance. "Scotch beef" and "Welsh lamb" now come from
animals pastured in Scotland or Wales for just two weeks. They are trucked
all over the United Kingdom so that the stores can change their designation
and thus raise the price of their meat. This is not about cheap food. It's
about expensive food.
But, most importantly, by trading directly with the big producers they
control, the big chains have cut out the middleman. The result is that
livestock markets have disappeared as swiftly as the slaughterhouses. Now,
in order to sell their animals to independent butchers, farmers in some
parts of the country must drive them hundreds of miles. The superstores
themselves have centralised their distribution networks, trucking livestock
from Land's End to John O'Groats and the butchered meat back to Land's End.
Their profits are extracted only at enormous cost to ourselves. The billions
they make are matched by the billions the taxpayer spends on road building
and maintenance, environmental remediation, hospital bills for the victims
of food poisoning and, of course, mass slaughter programmes.
The animals pay too, by means of the appalling conditions in which they are
reared and trucked. Yet the savings the supermarkets make are not passed on
to farmers, and they are not passed on to consumers.
The power of the superstores ensures that others must be blamed for the
disasters they precipitate. The farmers being investigated in Northumberland
may well have neglected their animals, but since the big chains started
buying their pork from gigantic industrial batteries, the farm-gate price
has collapsed, forcing the remaining producers to spend ever less time and
money on their pigs. Badgers are blamed for bovine TB, while the mass
transit of infectious cattle is overlooked. And the underlying problem, we
are universally informed, is us.
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