VEGA News Item

An Unequal Food Industry Nimiety Satiety Deficiency... - 18/07/2005
Too much here, too little there and worshipping at the altar of cheap food and of outputs dominated by quantity rather than the standards of quality and distribution. We plead with government and industry for an enterprise in Salutary Food Supply from Salubrious Farming in a consultation on draft Food Industry Sustainability.
1. Emphasis that “ a healthy diet is built on a base of grains, vegetables and fruits, followed by ever-decreasing amounts of dairy-products, meat, sweets, and oils” connotes plenty of unsustainability for big sectors of the food industry, Current changes in the CAP and repercussions in world and free trade, repeals of subsidies, and the demands and developments in cash crops (notably sugar, bananas, tobacco, coffee, tea and cotton) indicate exciting times for the food industry, not to mention the effects and anticipation of climate change, with hefty implications in fuel and power policies. Bio security has to be ensured, as well as observances such as HACCP and thwarting of acts of terrorism all through the food chain.

2. The word sustainable in these contexts is unapt. It should be dropped with no harm to the general purports described in the strategy-indeed, a gain is made in banishing complacency and in preparing consumers for harder thinking and concern for the value of food and health over the price of cheap commodities won by many variations on a few staples. “Live for today, farm for ever” remains a truism: Terrorism and plagues such as BSE and bacteria and viruses sweeping through animal and plant species, as well as climatic “ Acts of God”, have to be counted as thralls as serious-or more so in an overpopulated world-as the Black Death and biblical murrains of old. The food industry cannot expect to be bailed out of consequences of bad husbandry and practice that linger over BSE, scrapie, and some viral diseases associated notably with intensification and “cheap” food, repeal of the 30-month cattle scheme and present difficulties in the cattle and sheep industries will be intensified unsustainability in the dairy/ beef/ veal trade; and the future of British sheep farming on the hills and less favoured areas looks as bleak as the winter weather.

3.Submission invited by the Cabinet Office a couple of years ago for consideration of what has come to be called the Curry Commission examined many of the factors recognised in the FSA Strategy, but events are overtaking some of the essentials. Moreover, the FSA Strategy over estimates the competence of the food industry and consumer groups, which have been reduced to shame and ineptness in appreciating their complicity in the awfulness of cheap food policies (at any price) and the crimes of intensification, BSE, and foot-and-mouth disease and the consequent massacres, conflagrations, and desecrations of the environment. The sinners are only coming to costive repentance, “Did you eat meat, beef (or drink milk) at the peak of the unresolved BSE crisis ( or give or receive donated human blood) ?” Would be an apt test question for an answer from commentators arrogating themselves as fit exemplars of sustainability and strategy. The food industry in the UK has to eye to the demise of mining, shipbuilding, steelworks, and the motor industry in meeting and adapting to changes in the global village; British farming and the food industry are now in a similarly exposed situation. Extremes of haute cuisine in posh catering establishments are just an outburst of cosmetic extravagance concealing a fundamental rottenness of poor service, low esteem, ill-paid labour, enslaved and violated non-human animals, and desecrated environments and rural communities. Tactics and change must anticipate the slower intentions of strategy and sustainability.

4.“The Grampian County Food Group is calling on retailers to pay up to 6% more for its meat and poultry lines to help meet the rocketing costs of fuel, feed and packaging. The group, which has farms, feed mills, and processing plants at nearly 40 sites across the UK, is in negotiations with hundreds of customers, including the major supermarket groups, asking for increased payments for its products. It produces chicken, beef, pork, lamb, and turkey. A spokesman said this week: ‘Negotiations are still underway and we have been receiving some sympathy with the situation we are in’. Higher gas and electricity charges are making the cost of heating poultry houses unsustainably expensive, it says, while recent fuel prices hikes are impacting on the haulage of livestock and the distribution of finishing products, Grampian says its energy costs alone have risen by up to 47 % in the past year and, with the cost of crude reaching almost $60 a barrel, it means the business can no longer absorb its costs, it added. The extra costs will now have to be reflected in the price charged for the finished product.

5.“Philip Wilkinson, Managing Director of Grampian’s integrated and Added Value Chicken Business Unit, said: We are looking for a 6 % increase across all of our products, made up of 3 % fuel price increase across all of our products, 2 % feed increases, and 1 % packaging increases. Up to a third of any increase achieved from our retail customer base will be passed back to our farmer supply base,’ he added. Negotiations have already begun with the major retailers to increase by 6% the amount they pay for chicken, pork, beef, and lamb”.

6. The foregoing quotation comes from the lead story on the front page of a recent Meat Trade Journal, (dated 07 July 2005). The comments coincide with this year’s Royal Agricultural Show and with fierce debate on Europe’s CAP. Grampian claims to be “a market leader in the meat industry”; accordingly, “we have taken the decision to take the initiative on this”. Grampian’s move is likely to be reflected in similar requests across the industry as most businesses find themselves facing the same cost increases. Appealing for early agreements in the negotiations, Grampian's executives warn agreements in the negotiations, Grampian’s executives warn that “the company employs 25, 000 in the UK, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Thailand”.

7. Grampian is undergoing “restructuring of its business into 3 units comprising Integrated and Added Value Chicken, Pork, and Red Meat”, claiming that this would allow “greater focus on the direction of the business and provide a greater level of synergy, while also providing more cohesive leadership and delivery of its strategic plans and earnings growth”. The restructuring does not affect operational activities of Grampian’s Thailand, Country Transport, or Muirden pig farming businesses. These strategies give short shrift to the DEFRA consultation’s versions of strategy, nor do they manifest any commitment to the Economist’s emphasis on the policies for “ever decreasing” consumption of the products and derivatives, of the live/dead stock industry in the health ( and, coincidentally, of animal welfarists and environmentalists focusing, in the style of the FSA’s Standards, on Salutary Food from Salubrious Farming).

8. The poultry industry has developed from little more than a farmer’s wife sideline remembered by Britain’s elderly for the seasonal commercial supplies of new-laid eggs and the occasional “treat” of a well-grown table fowl into an all-too sustainable monster of cheap, convenient poultry-meat and eggs produced in factory farming conditions, with few reservations from nutritionists and epidemiologist and still less by governments which pays little as direct subsidies (although the industries benefits indirectly from subsidies bestowed on arable farming-about half the British cereal crop may be harvested for feed). In the meat-industry’s colour discrimination, modern consumers prefer the white meat of poultry to the red of sheep-meat (unless it is mutton when some astute value adding can pass mutton off in one of the few growing aspect-halal dish here in the in the industry; the pet meat trade is another burgeoning aspect of adding value to what can be remembered as butcher scraps and “something for the dog”.)

9. During the 1980s and the 1990s consumption of shell eggs was declining, owing mainly to the 4c effect-Currie (Edwina), cholesterol, campylobacter, and cages. At the end of the 1990s, the decline was halted and consumption has began to rise: consumption thereafter has risen by about 2 eggs per person per month and the industry is striving to continue this by various forms of promotion, aided by free ranging forms of value adding. The increase alone pitches about 5 million birds a year into the hell of factory farming, as well as causing the massacre of an equivalent number (by gassing or maceration) of unwanted male chicks and the disposal of the almost valueless spent hens (however, Grampian is working on this). During this spell of increased production and consumption, self styled animal walfarists have busied themselves on free-ranging diversions into questionable reforms in husbandry. Britain’s public was not staggering eggless into the new millennium- more likely egg bound-and the seasonal supplies of fresh eggs and of preserved and powered eggs in the years of austerity after WW2 satisfied most consumers on a diet admittedly simple but healthy ( until the effects of the withdrawal of Marchall Aid had been overcome). Those wartime debts to the USA should be paid off by the end of this year: a good start for a sustainable decline of this evil industry.

10. The poultry industry incurs blame on several counts. It packs intensive productive with low demands on expensive land but entailing environmental problems from excreta and nuisances from processing plants ( and consequent yields of by products-some possibly upgraded to co-products) –and demands for disposals in land fill); on the other hand it now yields a steadied income from continuous production or at least from several harvests every year. In some respects it is like dairying in yielding an almost steady income, but the poultry-industry requires lower expenditure on stockmanship and proportionately higher costs on feed than outlays for labour and feed in dairy-herds, especially if these are run on lo-input systems producing milk and calves directly off grass (when output of milk would amount to about 60 % of the average for today’s cows intensively kept and housed in conditions notorious for links with lameness, mastitis, reproductive disorders, production diseases, and as the fount and maintenance of BSE). All of these threats are sustained by subsidies, now at last decreasing, in what may be, at least in the UK, terminal decline of another sick aspect of the live/dead stock industry.
11. The dairying decline implies upheavals in the traditions of family and tenant farming and of the rural socio-economy and environment-to the extent of EU- inspired incentives for early pensioning of dairy-farmers. Some commentators believe that the industry- and its involvement in the whole dairy/beef/veal trade-will not resile: sons ( and daughters) of farmers are not keen on all the relentless chores of dairying and envy the cereal barons’ rotation- 3 years in barley, one in the Bahamas-augmented by single farm payments, set aside, b and b, and tourism. The once-niche market in the dairy-free (i.e. plant) milks, derived from soya beans processed in gleaming steel vats rather than as concentrates stuffed into miserable, mastitic, and mucky cows has at last arrived on the supermarket shelves and bids fair to innovate and shortly to capture 5 % of the dairy market- that’s equivalent to the yield of about 120,000 cows (unless even higher yields are exorted from the cows). This entry into the market attracts reinforcement on the grounds of human health and animal welfare. Sustainability of the presently unstable dairy-industry is compromised and in need of change. Alterations in the over-thirty-month scheme and the value of newborn calves add to the uncertainties.

12. Mass production of crops (animal and plant) and intensive or out-of season ailtivations inflict major installations and use of services on rural communities. They draw on some demand from local labour or unskilled workers engaged on their own account or brought in by gangmasters. Such workforces have weak roots in local affairs and as employees of major local interest; as in the feudal conditions of old, they succumb to an unhealthy dominance. Major enterprises generate nuisances that the local involved population will be both to object to. Such afflictions includes noxious emissions, smells, and imperceptible release of greenhouse gases and attraction of vermin and parasites. Travellers by air landing in countries such as the Netherlands or the Irish Republic will quickly discern where there be pigs or cattle in great numbers and the associated manure pits lacking the smell of well-produced fym. Poultry sheds and packing stations yield appreciable emissions of ammonia, objectionable to visitors to the countryside and owners of second homes and incomes, as well as to employees at the enterprise compromised in their involvement in local politics. One major poultry producer has ignored much disquiet in the neighbourhood of one of its plants and the enfeebled local council has been reduced to distributions of fly papers in attempts at remediation. This is an instance of the overloading of our land to sustain home-produced food and other products, as well as demands for housing, roads, airports, and industry incurring loss of amenity, stress on the land and services and-by interference with drainage and trees-augmented risks of flooding and subsidence.
13. Confinements and regulations imposed on British husbandry as result particularly of BSE and FMD and concomitant demands of bookwork and the extensions and changes in the CAP’s application of subsidies have prompted a new form of entrepreneurial colonization in the fertile lands of the new EU, now being released from state control. Cheap (relatively) labour and skills are available without the problems of immigration and opportunities arise for extension of factory farming on a big scale. Bernard Mathews is now operating in Hungary and provision of fast foods and beverages is being much extended. Although these changes attract objections in terms of transport, especially of livestock and animals, such as spent hens, sows, and cows for specialized slaughter, the transhipment and movement can be achieved in reciprocal trade, with vehicles running loaded for many of their journeys. These movements, especially across latitudes, have traditionally availed Britain with the wide choice yielded by farming much of it within the EU, in sunnier climes- and from regions able to manage 2 harvests a year to Britain’s one. The food industry is now being expected to provide the British population with at least 5 portions a day of fruit and vegetables. This objective cannot be met satisfactorily from home-grown crops: orchards have been destroyed for hectares of cereal grains, and horticulture and market gardening have been neglected for the convenience of variety in imported crops and berries. Traditional early crops of ornamentals, potatoes, and pomes are under pressure in the southern countries and Channel Islands from imports brought in from lower latitudes with the benefit of warmer sunshine and less seasonal variation- and also with fewer challenges from wildlife and introduced species spared the ruthless affects of shooting, snaring, and trapping. Retailers and customers must realise British farmers suffer at the moment of degrees of latitude of great benefit to their competitors.
14. Extensive use of plastics and fuel overcome some of these impediments; however, the food industry is still neglecting many opportunities in exploiting sustainable means of deriving power and heating. Retailers and customers must be given information allowing choices to be made on the basis of efforts at reducing resort to fossil fuels-on, say, a calories-in to a calories-out basis. Facile objections to food miles must be balanced by contemplation of muck miles in return, especially in organic terms of recycling and maintenance of the environments of the primary producers. .The trade in fruit and veg abstracts much water from areas of low rainfall; the consequent drain on scarce reserves can result in export of problems that importers, such as those in northern Europe, are loath to entertain.
15. If Britain’s farmers and horticulturalists are to compete in the internal food, they will have to provide quality that the public will pay for or benefit from some form of subsidy based on a sliding scale of latitude; or, less desirably, imports from low-latitude regions could be subject to extra taxes.Challenges arise with differential taxes on manufacturing products such as juices, soft drinks and wines; economists and the market may decide, in the prevailing interpretations of the CAP and free trade, to abandon more land in the UK to leisure and tourism and to rely on free trade and imports to sustain a healthy market choice for the British public and for raw commodities for the food industry. Enrichment of the countryside and restoration of areas lost to deforestation and grubbing out of hedgerows could compensate for such changes and advantages could be taken of climate change. Some “traditional” practices are actually relatively recent introductions as a result of clearances and transhumance and associated with overgrazing and impoverishment of soils. The natural habitat of wildlife is sustainable wilderness, to which hillsides and less favoured areas could revert. Many commercial sheep are born and reared in unequal conditions and suffer unduly in the wheeling and dealing of the auction trade and the stresses of transhipments on the hoof; the meat is acquiring a granny image and the wool is worth little more than the cost of shearing; and the meat is fatty and generally inferior for manufacturing purposes. Sustainability for sheep (and goats) should mean protection for flocks and hefted sheep from the pressures of excessive population and the dangers to animals of biblical innocence from the traffic driven by agents of destruction and sacrifice. It seems unlikely that the UK can develop a feasibly isolated farming industry protected from the hazards of cheap travel and therefore immune from the risks transmitted by other husbandry systems. At least we must establish traceability and supervision from all sources of foods and raw materials, through dealers, merchants, and brokers, into manufacturers and retailers in the UK.
16. The foregoing considerations and the aspects covered in the Draft Susceptibility Strategy determine abandonment of cheap food policies and promotion of quality and salutary enterprise in the food industry. The industry must suffer for its earlier and continuing shortcomings, from government interference and provision of indemnification for blunders in its own performance (which would therefore provide a form of policing run broadly by the insurance industry). Much of wider use of IT must be made to engage customers in the details of the products they choose to buy in an objectively informed way. The industry is not only a national provider and agent of research-like the industries furnishing power, transport, and communication- and it holds and collects much information that should be open and accessible to the public, even at some loss in commercial confidentiality.
17. In our submission to the Cabinet Office on farming and food policies we advocated a salutary link between “good” production and the elements of “healthy” consumership, i.e. Salutary Food from Salubrious Farming in curbing certain forms of over-production; subsequent campaigns on obesity and, as our opening quote from the Economist proves, reductions of certain foods and manufactured derivatives for the common good need unusual enterprise from the food industry in striving for quality rather than quantity. False values are also being served in excesses of catering and nimiety while we must recognise a population unable with thrift to nourish themselves and their children adequately. The food trade has made some steps with “economy” and “value” products but they are also widely bought as staples by customers able to spend out on convenience foods and restaurant meals. The trends for quality and equable distribution of supplies of products of merit from industry and benefit to the public could be met, we suggested, by differentially raised VAT on animal-derived foods and ingredients. Other respondents to the Cabinet Office’s consultations recommended such differention limited to, say, fats and sugars, which would catch commodities the food industry over-uses.
18. Analogies can be found already in other countries as well as the UK in the EU and in sales taxes levied in states in the North of America. In the UK confectionery and pet foods are denied the benefits allowed for common commodities. There exist too special dispensations and vouchers for people with special needs and access to essential services, e.g. winter fuel for the elderly and free TV licences. The 5-a-day campaigns are directing subsidized supplies of fruit and veg to schoolchildren, where they are much needed. Retailers and the food trade must compete much more vigorously with loyalty schemes and “ethical” endeavours (such as those for which certain banks and finance houses are famous). Supermarkets and retail chains must strive much harder to earn such repute. Recent publicity for international incentives in global trade has emphasized the workings of the CAP and illuminated responsibilities over food as cash crops and earnests in “fair” trade. The government- a major customer- and the industry must acknowledge initiatives such as Sainsbury’s in the selective purchases of bananas. Now it is time for a major manufacturers and merchants to declare fair trading initiatives over sugar, with positive exemplifications of cultivations replacing with varieties of “value” crops to replace the excessive outputs of sugar beet from the prosperous nations of Europe and North America. The food industry in the UK has been lacklustre in policing itself and in supporting husbandry yielding food of value instead of cheap and harmful gutfill. It cannot expect immunity from government interference unless it can raise its standards and performance to match the demands of a more critical public. Competition stimulated wisely should accomplish that aim. The Coops corperate plan presents an estimable lead.
19. The retail trade is increasing its interests into marketing ventures allied to food production. Such crops are cotton and wool, now imported as fabricated textiles manufactured in the countries of primary production. These trends are further exemplified in food products such as poultry: not only eggs and carcase birds bought in from countries such as Thailand and Brazil, but also manufactured products of the type associated with big firms in the UK. Vendors and retailers must increasingly demonstrate command and competence in world markets and vigilance and traceability from producer to consumer, through brokers and dealers. Again the trade should not leave this to government bodies. It must share information and use all mean of IT, as well as labelling, to support customers exercising their concerns and complicity as good citizens. Observances of good hygiene and HACCP practices are essential, as well as the kind treatment of animals at all stages of rearing, production, transport, and slaughter.
20. Major retailers in the food industry show scant respect for responsible practice if they sell tobacco and cigarettes prominently at the entrances to their stores and if they surround cash points with junk foods and stimulants to foster impulse buying. At a recent visit to an ASDA store our researcher observed that the approach used by the queue waiting to pay at the till was surrounded on both sides with colas and fizzy drinks on the one hand and confectionery on the other; a shelf of OTC aspirin, indigestion relief, and other painkillers was also within easy reach- appropriately these retailers must show social responsibility without ponderous government intervention. These objectionable practices should be replaced by services such as post office counters. Supermarkets and other retailers accept government-imposed restrictions on sales of alcoholic liquors, which result in closures of aisles during hours of normal trading. They have other restrictions they must exercise on their own account albeit replace with enterprises to the common good. The major retailers and chains are aspiring to provisions of more health services, such as doctors,’ and vets, surgeries, opticians, pharmacists, and supplies of deaf aids etc. Such developments do not fit well with hawking of junk foods and beverages and tobacco.
21. The differential VAT that we propose would appeal to animal walfarists and environmentalists as well as to reformers seeking ingredients for the portfolio of diets favoured by doctors and nutritionists on the basis of Mediterranean and oriental practices. Such reinforcement comes with benefits to customers and to a market that has persuaded itself wrongly that animal welfare counts for little and deserves little attention or, worse, competition emphazing guilt and controversy within its own stores.
22. The food industry and marketing analyst have maintained that animal welfare and environmental interests count for little when customers actually reach for their wallets, having abandoned views glibly given to interviewers and pollsters. However, these issues are increasingly accepted as practicable grounds for premium prices, as the organic and freedom foods sectors demonstrate. We and others ( such as Kevin Hawkins of the British Retail Consortium) have pointed out that marginalizing definitions such as vegetarian and vegan have given way to liberalized market serving meat reducers and dairy-frees, which is actually answering the interests of campaigning veggies more effectively than the activity of an un-enterprising niche trade of vegetarian commodities. The alternative dairy- foods and shifts in the pitch for meat-like products, such as Quorn (inspite of a name associated with animal- unfriendly pursuits), demonstrate trends in the market. Notwithstanding rumblings of disquiet in the trade, vendors of competing pig-products are actually advertising their alleged superiority in animal welfare. Brands such as the Real Meat Company boast the highest standards of animal welfare, with correspondingly high prices putting the meats in luxury range. True to these standards, this enterprising company refuses to sell dairy products (its beef comes from suckler herds) and is able to find few egg farmers who meet their standards; accordingly, they are prepared to keep their esteem by turning away unworthy business.
23. These considerations are nicely enhanced by authoritative trends on grounds of nutrition and diet, to which they are linked. The ailing dairy-industry ( and the likelihood of dwindling subsidies) is forced to seek means of dumping excessive fat, by-products and co-products ripe for value-adding into markets for manufactured cheesytarian commodities now dubious for unwary vegetarians. In 1972 the Finnish government launched the Karelia Project for ends similarly emerging nutritional and dietary imperatives in the rest of the EU. Its success generated major dietary and agronomic changes and the development of new products ( such as Benecol) that have profitably reached other European markets. Latter-day initiatives on a “ healthy” basis, such as glycemic index, are now being acknowledged for their saleability by major manufacturers and retailers in the UK. The Finnish initiative benefited from dumping much of its discarded butterfat into notorious EU mountains that had to be sold off to imprudent countries such as Poland and Russia. Contemporary versions of the Karelia Project have now no such opportunities for dumping and the dairy industry is suffering from an inability to sustain beneficial properties in its output even with redoubled endeavours to add substantial value in its by-products. And the cow yielding conveniently semi skimmed milk has not been bred.
24. The food trade should take note of the breakthrough of cruelty-free toiletries, cosmetics, and clothing, not tested on animals, from Beauty Without Cruelty commodities expressing “the vegetarian ethic” to products sold widely in supermarkets and retailers’ chains, notably in the franchising of Body Shops. Developments in groups such ass Fresh and Wild stores, refreshing the original purposes of “healthy food” shops, illustrate potential in cruelty-free food. In this revived enterprise in the food-industry the diversification of associated British Foods, a conglomerate best known for Twinings Tea and Ryvita crispbread, into the clothing industry in its acquisitions of the Primark and Littlewood chains, suggests, together with observations of the catholicity in supermarkets notable mainly for food on the one hand and on clothing and footwear, such as M and S) into specialized food halls on the other, new opportunities in marketing franchising under the cruelty-free banner beckons as a feasible opportunity and investment for research and development in the food market.
25. The food industry must show much more commitment industries in the environmental and animal welfare issues in the fishing industries and land-filling and composting of wastes ( which would include distributions of discards in good condition rejected by expiry of sell-by dates but suitable for consumption or manufacture into less perishable comestibles.


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