Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cheap sheep


Flock, originally uploaded by Sparrows' Friend.

Friend Don watched me starting to cut up a cauliflower I was going to cook for my supper tonight, and the conversation turned to the cost of food. The cauli wasn't expensive, I said, because it was one of Sainsbury's "basics", which probably meant that some poor grower had had his or her profit margin trimmed to the bone. Don started going on about something he'd read somewhere about the link between the cost of food and the rate of inflation, and I said that we'd have to get used to more expensive food because we've had it too cheap for too long. In real terms, the cost of food in the UK has been kept low for ages, and now it will have to increase because of a hike in the cost of staples like wheat and the effect of the wet weather on British crops. Then we'll all starve, says Don, who's in no danger of doing so.

After Don had gone home and I'd had my cauliflower cheese, I watched Countryfile with Prince Charles. Part of the programme was from a hill farm in the North of England, where the farmer, his wife and two kids struggle to keep going with rising feed prices, lower sale prices, and all the costs incurred by running a farm, even a small one. Charlie helped a charity in their area that supports similarly struggling farmers. There've been too many suicides over the past few years, after they've failed to make a living despite long hours in all weathers. Some make as little at £8000 a year. How many of the shoppers at your local supermarket, grumbling about rising prices, would keep going for that sort of money? Yet they expect cheap food and will throw a substantial part of it in the bin because they've bought too much, or a picky eater in the family turned up his or her nose at it.

There's a lot of fuss in the media currently about benefit caps and the rising cost of living, yet most people in work, even those on low wages, are still getting more than £8000 a year. A hill farmer with sheep or a small scale dairy farmer will work much longer hours than most other people, so their low income works out at well below the minimum wage, pro rata. Imported food comes from places where people are expected to work for even less. Still think it's OK to complain about rising prices and throw stuff in the bin? If you do, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Click here for a previous post about the dairy industry.
Click here for The Farm Crisis Network.
The cost of cheap food.

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