Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Give Good Local Food a Chance

Local food and shopping has been a hot topic in the press recently with further discussion over the relationship between supermarkets and local producers. During The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 on the 5th of January, the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said that the country should change how we provide and consume food in Britain. The government has a twenty year plan to increase food production on our farms and a strategy to revolutionise how we produce food. Their aim is to heighten food production to cope with increasing demand using sustainable resources. But this cannot be achieved with the unjust relationship between producers and suppliers.

‘In recent years, governments have relied on big food retailers to deliver low prices in the name of a 'cheap food policy'. Rocketing food prices last year have shown how volatile this system is. Government must now put resilience and sustainability at the heart of its food policy,’ Commissioner Professor Tim Lang from the Sustainable Development Commission said.

Increasing sustainable food production sounds like a brilliant plan and it is now feasible with the government’s new supermarket ombudsman, announced on the 14th. The ombudsman will enforce a new groceries supply code of practice (GSCOP). Currently, farmers are powerless to negotiate deals with large supply chains of their products and food giants often abuse their power over these smaller producers. Last year the NFU found that for a basket of food costing the consumer £37 the farmers would only have got £11. Producers need to be able to get their products in store without being swindled by larger supply chains.

The government wants to combat this, and the new code of practice will govern the relationship between producers and suppliers. The idea of a supermarket watchdog has long been debated and now, after a huge push from the Competition Commission who researched the unfair relationships between producers and suppliers, the ombudsman finally got the go ahead. This watchdog will deal with unfair practices, such as squeezing profits, cutting prices, paying late and making producers fund marketing.

Farmers have suffered immensely during the recession and the government want to make Britain a food industry superpower. They want food and energy security for the future and this can be sustained using locally sourced produce. For this to work the government need to loosen the stronghold that large supermarket chains have on local producers for an equal, locally supported market, and this can be achieved with the supermarket ombudsman. Acting under this new code of practice, the government will try and persuade supermarkets to be more responsible, and also provide more locally sourced food.

National Farmers Union President Peter Kendall said: ‘Government has said it will act in the best interests of consumers and it seems clear that the establishment of an ombudsman will give suppliers the confidence to invest and to innovate which will, in turn, improve consumer choice, produce better products, and ensure food remains affordable.’

Wedge thinks that this is fantastic news for local producers and independent shops. Not only will it help local farmers, but also the independent retailers who are in competition with the larger chain supermarkets. This new code of practise will even out the playing field between chains and independents and give local retailers the step up they deserve.

Let’s raise one arm in the air for local producers!

Written by Lauren Ottaway

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