Ryeview – October 2002

We need to move away from the cheap food policy

John Clark writes…

First published: October 2002(2) – Gazette & Herald

Farming, in parallel with the rest of society, has for 50 years gone ever faster down the ‘motorway’. Everyone is living on borrowed money which no-one will lend. Farming has been reduced from the second oldest profession to a low value commodity producer.

The link between these two parallel worlds is cheap food. When Britain was ‘bankrupt’ at the end of WWII the need for affordable, home produced food was obvious. Hidden in this ‘cheap food policy’ was the devaluing of both food and farming. Cheap food has not only worked its way into the public psyche but is also believed by farming leaders. These leaders have supported the intensive production of feed and food. Any protein could be used for feed; ‘Protein is protein is protein’. Ground up chicken feathers could be fed to cattle. The ingredients of cattle concentrates were kept secret. This resulted in BSE and farmers got the blame. It was cheaper to trade in cattle across the country rather than local markets and abattoirs. This resulted in the explosive spread of FMD. Once again farmers got the blame. The public did not view farmers struggling to deliver the cheap food policy; farmers were seen as cutting corners so as to increase profits.

The latest domino ready to fall is GM – another ‘Protein is protein is protein’ approach. Public opinion has said a clear NO to GM. Commercial pressures mean that many farmers are using GM animal feed for their livestock. As much as 85% of compound feed in the EU may contain GM. Faced with this problem the NFU are once again going with the ‘cheap food policy’. In the same way as the feed compounders of the 90’s kept the content of the feed secret, so the Biotech companies want GM to just be a part of the feed chain. At present there is a ‘zero-tolerance’ for non-EU approved varieties. The NFU is calling for an end to this policy. The NFU also believes that a non-GM policy will result in ‘us having to pay significant and increasing premiums on feed….’. This ignores the fact that the cost of soya meal from Argentina (mostly GM) has increased by over 80% in the last year. It also ignores the fact that increased feed prices are helpful to farmers in the UK who grow their own feed. We should be campaigning for GM free, good quality, UK produced food. We should not be trying to get a ‘quick fix’ courtesy of the transnationals. They are far too powerful for farmers to trust. Remember who carried the BSE can? It wasn’t the feed companies.

British people knew that intensive agriculture was wrong. They knew that feeding dead cattle to cows was wrong. They believe that GM is wrong. So why is the NFU trying to take us to the edge of yet another precipice. An increase in home grown non-GM protein; an increase in the price and value of feed and food are steps in the right direction. Farming should once again be producing high value food, not a low value commodity.

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