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SchNEWS on supermarkets & agriculture

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  • Mark.S.Brown
    from this week s SchNEWS Published in Brighton by Justice? - Brighton s Direct Action collective ISSUE 295, FRIDAY 2nd March, 2001 SHOPPING MAUL If you have
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2001
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      from this week's SchNEWS

      Published in Brighton by Justice? - Brighton's Direct Action collective

      ISSUE 295, FRIDAY 2nd March, 2001



      SHOPPING MAUL

      "If you have local food and local shops, things may go wrong but they don't
      spread like this" - Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, Thames Valley
      University.

      In case you haven't noticed the foot and mouth disease outbreak has spread
      right across the country. Hardly surprising as livestock is routinely
      transported all around the UK, Europe and beyond. Let's face it Britain's
      agriculture is a mess: BSE, genetically modified foods, pesticide residues
      and now foot and mouth. So what's gone wrong?

      In 1939 13% of the population worked on farms, now its only 2%. Today's food
      production has more in common with an industrial production line. Each year
      860 million farm animals are slaughtered, the vast majority of these reared
      intensively in overcrowded conditions, leading to the rapid spread of
      disease and the routine use of antibiotics.

      The production of fruit and veg isn't much different, crops are grown in
      huge monoculture plots and routinely sprayed with pesticides: e.g. lettuces
      are sprayed 15 times. Considering that England is an ideal climate for
      growing apples it's crazy that we now consume more French ones than English!

      Supermarkets' Sweep Up

      "Outside economic forces have done me in. You have no control over prices,
      everything is set by outsiders. It doesn't matter how well you farm, it just
      gets harder and harder" - Ex-farmer.

      The big four supermarkets sell over half our food in the UK. This dominance
      gives them a stranglehold on producers. Supermarkets know that farmers have
      little choice and dictate which varieties should be produced, how animals
      should be kept, and what chemicals need to be sprayed, and when. In return
      for their efforts farmers receive minimum prices for their products. A
      survey found that apples were being sold at nearly double the price that
      farmers were getting for them, and eggs four times as much. And if the
      produce isn't uniform in size, shape and colour farmers have to throw the
      food away and get nothing.

      Tescos are now trying to have only three suppliers for each of their
      products. So if you're a farm that gets a contract you can grow and grow
      (well unless you fall out of favour cos' your tomatoes aren't juicy enough),
      if not, then hard luck. And despite the increasing supermarkets claims to
      support British farmers the amount we import from abroad is increasing, and
      even food that is British probably isn't local - in the last 20 years the
      average distance our food travels within the UK has doubled (SchNEWS 283).

      So if farmers are getting shafted by supermarkets why aren't they protesting
      about this rather than the price of fuel? Well they did. In 1998, enraged by
      the fall in the amount they received for their meat, they blockaded ports
      and supermarkets. The action forced the government to carry
      out an investigation, but the Office of Fair Trading couldn't see that the
      supermarkets were doing anything wrong, so nothing changed. A recent survey
      by the National Farmers Union found that 98% of farmers believe that their
      futures would be more secure if they went back to basics and selling direct
      to the public. But most are too scared to speak out, in case they loose
      their 'contracts' i.e. livelihood and home.

      * British supermarkets are roughly three times more
      profitable than similar companies in France, Germany,
      Italy and Spain.

      * Last year Sainsbury's made a meagre 580 million pre
      tax profits and Tesco's an embarrassing 955 million-
      how do they cope?

      * Lord Sainsbury, the former Chief Executive of
      Sainsbury's, is the richest man in Britain, and a
      Labour peer.

      Superpowers

      Supermarkets may have destroyed our farming industry, but they've given us
      convenience, choice, jobs and cheap goods. But hey, wait a minute lets look
      at how convenient and how much choice they really offer us. Call us
      old-fashioned but how convenient is it to get to an out of town shopping
      centre, rather than pop to your local shop (especially if you've got no
      car). When supermarkets move into an area small shops go down the pan. A
      government report in 1998 concluded that food shops in market towns lost
      between 13 and 50% of their trade when a supermarket opened. In 1950 there
      were 221,662 food shops in Britain by 1997 this had fallen to just under
      37,000. Is that what they call more choice?

      What about job creation?Well, supermarkets employ one-fifth of the staff per
      unit area than smaller shops, and how can working in a supermarket compare
      to working in a local store? But at least the supermarkets are cheap, aren't
      they? It may come as a surprise but they're not. Although
      they tempt you in with cheap bread and baked beans, loads of their other
      stuff is more expensive. Independent specialist shops have been found to be
      30 percent cheaper than the big chains, and if you buy direct from your
      local farmer or farmers' markets then the savings are even greater.

      Despite all this the popularity of supermarkets appears to be growing and it
      may feel like there's nothing we can do to stop them. Their growth may be
      due to lazy-car driver-shove-it-in-the-microwave mentality. But they've also
      curried favour with politicians, influencing policy so that they can build
      what they want where they want, even in National Parks. Supermarkets also
      bribe councils with roads and community centres in return for building their
      stores. In Brighton, Sainsbury's look set to be allowed to build next to the
      station despite everybody wishing they would get lost. In return they are
      willing to bribe the council with building a road.

      SchNEWS' ALTERNATIVES

      So what can you do to undermine the supermarkets' dominance? Simple, don't
      shop at 'em if you can help it.

      * Go to your local market or greengrocer, you may be surprised at how cheap
      they are. Try to find out if there's a farmers market in the area, where
      farmers sell their own produce direct. 01225-787914 www.farmermarkets.net

      * Grow your own food. Get a list of allotment sites from your local
      authority or squat a bit of unused land! Alternatively you can join a City
      Farm, details from The Federation of City Farms www.farmgarden.org.uk

      * Campaign against more supermarkets. BUDD (Brighton Urban Design and
      Development) are opposing Sainsbury's development at Brighton station.
      01273-681166, www.solarcity.co.uk/BUDD

      * To find out more about supermarkets' power within the government and other
      dodgy things, read George Monbiot's book, Captive State, published by
      MacMillan.

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