Wednesday, 6 June 2012

A "Grocery Code Adjudicator" won't save a single hill farm but will increase food prices for the poor

First my usual disclaimer when writing about food – I’m no particular friend or fan of supermarkets, I like high quality, artisan-produced food and am an enthusiast for the new retail systems of farm shop, farmers market and veg box. But I don’t believe that these systems should succeed because government has fixed things in their favour, I think it wrong to deny others choice because foodies like me can influence the agenda.

And, while I’m about all this, food production is not undertaken for the benefit of the producer but for the benefit of the consumer. I know it seems daft that we need reminding of this but we surely do – here’s Liberal Democrat MP, Michael Moore:

“Over the years, supermarkets have held our local farmers over a barrel and it’s time for this injustice to be tackled and for the farmers, who produce the food we all enjoy, to be paid a fair price for their produce.

“I am extremely pleased that as a result of Liberal Democrats working in Government, legislation will now be introduced this parliament to bring in a Groceries Code Adjudicator.

I note your quizzical look – how does this represent acting on behalf of the producer? Surely Mr Moore is targeting the rapacious supermarket, this won’t affect us as food consumers, will it? I guess that the answer is ‘yes’ – by raising prices (which is what Mr Moore means by a “fair price”) you raise costs to the supermarket, costs that will be passed straight onto the consumer. Unless of course, the supermarket can go and buy it somewhere else in the world where there isn’t a “Groceries Code Adjudicator” to beat them up over some random judgement of a “fair price”.

If the supplier cannot produce the desired product for the price that suits the customer – and remember that those supermarkets pressing down on suppliers to lower prices are doing so, at least in part, for our benefit – then one of two things will happen:

1.       The price will rise to allow the producer to cover his costs (this will happen where no-one or very few can meet the price demanded), or:

2.       The price will be met by someone in the market and the customer will be supplied

What the campaigners for a “Groceries Code Adjudicator” want to do is raise farm gate prices – to force supermarkets and food manufacturers to pay more:

Referencing the recent announcement of a cut of 2 pence per litre (ppl) in the price paid to dairy farmers for milk by four of the major processors: Dairy Crest, Robert Wiseman, Arla and Muller, which will exploit these farmers to the tune of up to £20,000 per year, Tim (Farron) praised plans for a referee, who will have the power to protect farmers.

Look at it this way instead, rather than this “exploiting” the farmer, it could just as accurately be described as “benefitting” the consumer. After all, that price cut passes through the production chain until it lands in lower food bills for ordinary people. Yet, as the advocates of the “Grocery Code Adjudicator” say, this proposal is:

...backed by all the major parties, and a draft Bill has been examined by two select committees. This means it should pass through Parliament quickly and without controversy.

I find it odd that, at a time when the economy is in a deep hole, when ordinary people are struggling to pay their way, where we even have reports of families being unable to put food on the table – at a time of hardship we are proposing to introduce rules that will result in higher food prices. And not just higher prices – after all us foodies already pay more for the posh stuff – but increased costs targeted specifically at the poorest in society.

And the saddest thing in all this is that the Grocery Code Adjudicator – whoever he or she may be – won’t stop the continuing decline in farm businesses and especially the sort of farm business championed by Tim Farron and Michael Moore. These proposals will be followed by further calls for more protection, more support and greater subsidy – and yet the industry will continue to decline, the farms will continue to consolidate and the nature of the business will continue to change.


1 comment:

Leg-iron said...

Minimum prices for food, eh? I wondered how they'd manage to swing that.