Growers have told an influential committee of MPs that a policy of ‘cheap food’ is driving producers out of business and risks the future food security of the UK.
Presenting evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s inquiry into Fairness in the Food Supply Chain, British Apples and Pears (BAP) executive chairwoman Ali Capper said, “We’ve got a cheap food policy in this country, and that cheap food policy is driving out British farming and British food producers. So, we have to make a strategic change, in my opinion. We need to start championing what we can produce here at home, accepting that it isn’t the cheapest option for our consumer, but perhaps looking at the margin share in the supply chain.”
She also warned that the increased prices seen on supermarket shelves over the last year were not reflected by increased returns to growers, despite a 30 per cent increase in input costs such as energy and labour. “Despite the 8 per cent back to the market, we are seeing price rises among the big retailers. Lidl’s red apples went up by 50% in a two-year period; Morrisons British apples six pack went up by 39 per cent in a two-year period. Tesco increased the price of its Rosedene Farms Gala apples by 36 per cent in that same two-year period, so there’s an inequity in the margin share,” she commented.
“Government policy around a cheap food policy is driving poor buyer behaviour, it’s driving an increase in imports.” However, she added that climate change means that the feasibility of long term supplies from water-stressed regions such as Spain and North Africa is under question. “If you look at climate change maps the UK is in a good place to grow food going forward,” Ms Capper added. She made six recommendations to the committee, including a fair dealing clause and greater access to seasonal labour.
In his evidence, Guy Singh-Watson, the founder of Riverford Organics, said, “In my working lifetime, starting in the 80s when I used to supply supermarkets, I used to get about 38p in the retail pound. I think the typical figure today would be 25p. Why is it inevitable that the primary producers’ share of the retail should continuously fall? It is absolutely due to market power.
“And in that time, you’ve seen our self-sufficiency in food fall from roughly 80% to somewhere around 60%. So, the result of that is our industry is contracting.” He added that while the Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCoP) had curbed the worst buyer behaviour, it did not address the imbalance of power in the supply chain, and said producers remain afraid to speak out as they can be delisted and lose business. He also called for action to ban the use of ‘fictitious farm brands.’