Following on from my post UK food labelling requires change in legislation. The first group of people in the UK food labelling debate are the food producers.
The farmers that produce our food are the first line in the field to fork chain and they are battling a number of hurdles.
UK food labelling currently allows imported food to be labelled as “Produced in the UK” if the last part of the process was in the UK . A ham sandwich can say Produced in the UK, even if the pork comes from Denmark, the bread from France and the butter from Holland, as long as it was made into a sandwich in the UK.
So a pack of Wiltshire bacon may actually contain pork from pigs reared in sow crates, a practice which is now illegal in the UK due to animal welfare concerns.
Sow crates reduce the cost of pork production so overseas farmers who are still able to use these can sell their pork cheaper than British reared pork. With such an unlevel playing field how can our farmers compete?
Let’s put this simply, Farmer Giles grows crops of carrots each year. Every year over half of his crop is fed to cattle because the supermarket buyers say they are the wrong shape or the wrong shade of carrot colour (no, I’m not joking, read the British fruit and veg saga).
Farmer Giles then has to make his living from less than half the crops he can produce.
Now the EU are proposing a law to ban farm pesticides.
This proposed EU legislation still has to be accepted by the 27 member states governments but in January passed through the EU with a vote of 577 to 61. However, there have been no impact assessments done, this is purely “what if” legislation.
Environment secretary, Hilary Benn, said: “These regulations could hit agricultural production in the UK for no recognisable benefit to human health, and we are being asked to agree to something here when nobody knows what the impact will be. While we have managed to secure some improvements surrounding the use of certain pesticides, the UK does not support these proposals.”
I am opposed to GM crops and a big fan of organic production and the environment but there has to be some balance.
Farmer Giles may now have to contend with a number of different pests, reducing his crop yield even further, which will increase the price of his saleable carrots if he wants to make a profit.
But the large supermarkets control the prices they are willing to pay for his crops and will always keep the lions share of any price increase.
Consumers are also unwilling to keep paying more for food produced in the UK and are buying cheaper imported food … interestingly enough, from countries without such pesticide restrictions or animal welfare regulations.
Poorer countries will sell the best of their crops to EU countries but the remaining crops do not go to waste, they are sold locally where people do not care what shape a carrot is as long as it tastes like a carrot.
The doom and gloom brigade may be overstating their case when they say you may never see another British carrot but British farming is becoming more and more regulated and less profitable.
Consumers are demanding higher quality and welfare regulations but then going and buying cheaper imported food without a second thought for the production methods.
We are right to demand change if that is what we want but we must then support that change. If we, as consumers, are going to demand and drive change in British farming then we have to support our food producers and buy our food at farmers markets, box schemes or small independent shops.
If we simply want cheap food produced in any fashion then we should not insist on change in our farming methods, this will allow British farmers to produce food in the cheapest, most productive ways and they can then compete with imported food.
Our food producers are not innocent by-standers, many British farmers got greedy during the good times and they have largely failed to use their voices in the political arena, relying on groups such as the NFU to be their voice.
However British farming has been attacked from every side over the past decade, with disease, falling profits, increased imports, legislation and consumers that just got sick of seeing farmers in Mercedes cars pleading poverty.
Our farmers are among the best in the world and it is only fair to demand clear UK food labelling so we as consumers can make purchasing choices and our food producers can proudly state Produced in the UK on their produce.