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9-Misc: Storm clouds from food warlords gather over UK agriculture

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TITLE:  Storm Clouds from Food Warlords gather over UK Agriculture
SOURCE: Narual Law Party Wessex, UK
DATE:   August 14, 2001

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Storm Clouds from Food Warlords gather over UK Agriculture
Has the time come for a new farmer-consumer alliance?

"Let the heir to the throne enjoy his excellent if somewhat risky organic 
food ... Let my cattle enjoy their genetically modified soya."
Lord Haskins, Chairman of Northern Foods, Provision Trade Federation annual 
dinner, 2001


August 2001

As if things could not get any worse for UK agriculture Tony Blair's remedy 
for crisis ridden British farming is to put food industry magnate and 
'free' trade enthusiast, Lord Charles Haskins, in charge of the 
government's rural 'rescue' attempt following on from the foot-and-mouth 
crisis. This is about as comforting to farmers as putting a fox in charge 
of national chicken security.

Lord Haskins, appointed by the Prime Minister as the UK's 'rural recovery 
co-ordinator' at the beginning of August, is a key advocate of 
'liberalised' world trade and the introduction of genetically modified 
foods. He is also a fan of food-chain 'consolidation' - a code term for the 
creation of monopolistic food industry structures under which farmers are 
forced to become very unequal business 'partners' with giant food 
manufacturers and processors.

At the start of his 'recovery' activities Lord Haskins has suggested that 
half of the UK's farms (already the biggest on average in the EU) will 
disappear in the next 20 years (London Times, August 7, 2001). The prospect 
of a corporate-food-chain led suffocation of the nation's farming community 
now spreading to the UK looks increasingly likely. This is a process which 
is already well underway in the US. It is a process which has been 
unaffectionately described by Professor John Ikerd of the University of 
Missouri as 'the final stage of industrialization'. The final stage of 
industrialisation is, as Professor Ikerd indicates, the consolidation of 
decision making under corporate control.

However, the night is always darkest just before dawn, and Professor Ikerd 
portrays an altogether different vision for the future of 21st century 
farming in his remarkable paper 'Crisis and opportunity in North American 
agriculture' . The implementation of such an enlightened vision does, 
however, require action - and not just in the US.

British farmers urgently need to unite with consumers in a joint alliance 
to stem the unfolding industrialised food agenda that biotech promoting 
food-chain warlords like Lord Haskins (to say nothing of supermarket 
magnate-cum-government minister-cum-Labour Party funder-cum-GM investor 
Lord David Sainsbury) are providing to Prime Minister 'Townie' Blair. It is 
surely time now for the NFU to rise up and lead British agriculture out of 
this trap before the farming community becomes physically and politically 
invisible. It is surely now time to act decisively before the 'culture' in 
British 'agri-culture' is consigned to the history books for ever.

More and more consumers are ready to join forces with farmers to achieve 
this. The time has never been more ripe for the creation of a new alliance 
between farmers and consumers to revamp the structure and quality of the 
food chain for their mutual phyiscal and spiritual enrichment. Now is the 

But what is the nature of the beast that farmers and consumers are up 
against? Lord Haskins is chairman of Express Dairies as well as Northern 
Foods. Northern Foods has a turnover of 1.4 billion a year. In his 
chairman's speech to its annual general meeting on 19 July 2001 Lord 
Haskins proclaimed: "During the first quarter we raised our selling prices 
in many product sectors to recover ... higher costs."

With these words in mind it is not so difficult to see why dominant players 
in the rest of the food chain can make money out of British agriculture 
whilst farmers, as the source providers of our food, are losing it - 
processors and retailers just put up their sale prices. As their 
'consolidation' grows the middlemen between farmers and consumers are 
increasingly securing a 'cost-plus' basis of operation. Meanwhile many UK 
farm product prices are at, or are near, record lows and there's little 
that farmers can immediately do about it. They continue to operate on a 
'price-minus' basis.

A recent survey by Lloyds TSB reveals that - contrary to the claims of Lord 
Haskins - farmers do not want large subsidies. They, do however, want to 
receive a fair price for what they produce from companies like Northern 
Foods and the quasi-monopolistic retailing chains they supply.

This, however, does not prevent Lord Haskins from describing British 
farmers as 'mollycoddled' in an interview with the London Times, August 
7th. There are indeed still some substantial and profitable farm businesses 
in the UK but they are a shrinking minority. The average UK farmer earned 
just 5,200 for the financial year to February 2001, way below the official 
national minimum wage. Farmer suicides continue unabated.

Meanwhile Lord Haskins' salary from Northern Foods in 1998 was 208,479, 
together with share options than gained him 380,388. From Express Dairies 
he received a further salary of 104,000.

Northern Foods produce food under the brand names Fox's, Ski, Eden Vale, 
Munch Bunch, Goodfella's, Hollands pies, Dalepak, Ross, Pork Farms Bowyers 
and own-label food for Sainsbury's, Tesco, Marks and Spencer and Asda. They 
produce the buns for Burger King, Farley's Rusks under licence, and 
Batchelors Baked Beans in Ireland. They own NFT, one of the largest chilled 
food distributors in the UK.

Express Dairies is the UK's largest supplier of milk to supermarkets and 
the largest supplier of UHT (otherwise known by detractors as 'ultra 
horrible tasting') milk and cream. It has been in merger 'consolidation' 
talks with Wiseman Dairies, who are under official investigation following 
charges of price fixing. The Competition Commission has already concluded 
that Wiseman has been operating a monopoly in Scotland. Haskins wants 
Express Dairies to join forces with these people.

Charles Haskins is a donor to the Labour Party and was made a Lord by Tony 
Blair in 1998.



Quotations from:
Implications for Farmers and Consumers in a Global Food System'
Report to National Farmers Union
Jan 2001
University of Missouri

 "As retailers grow larger through acquisitions and mergers, they develop 
their own vertically integrated distribution systems that tend to shut out 
wholesalers, small processors and smaller retailers.....These large retail 
firms are able to develop one-on-one relationships with dominant food 
manufacturers that can service their far-flung systems....Thus, food 
manufacturers become more focused on serving the interests of food 
retailers rather than the interests of farmers..... Just a half-century 
ago, economists were justifying and promoting a decentralized agriculture 
production and processing system. As the economic system changed, so also 
did the economic theory that justified it. Today, much economic theory 
defends a highly centralized monopolistic or near monopolistic system....

A growing chorus of voices from a wide variety of political backgrounds is 
beginning to challenge the ideology - the assumptions, beliefs and values - 
of neoclassical economic theory that underpins the current economic system. 
Many feel that the loss of economic democracy may also lead to a loss of 
political democracy - and nowhere is that more apparent than in food.

The massive consolidation in food retailing that has taken place in the 
last few years seems to indicate that power is shifting toward the retail 
sector, as the structure of the agricultural system is determined by what 
consumers are conditioned to eat.....

Long protected from the ups and downs of the commodity markets, consumers 
are now beginning to see a direct economic impact from this near 
monopolistic food system as they experience increases in their food prices 
even when prices farmers receive for a commodity ......declines..... When 
will consumers become more proactive in challenging this emerging system?

For all of us, the question remains, who is going to have the power to make 
decisions about what food is produced, who will produce it, where and under 
what conditions it will be produced, and ultimately who will get to eat?..."


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