Saturday, January 5, 2013

Who pays the price?

For several decades now supermarkets have taken over the way we eat, they promised cheap food and that is what they sell, but at what cost?
 It all looks the same and by and large it tastes the same no matter what country you might be living in, but how many people ask how has this food been produced so cheaply, and by who?
 As everyone knows farming is the starting point, animals are reared on farms, it may not be the type of farm that many people imagine a farm is,  but it is still a farm, grain, fruit and veg are all grown on farms.
 Wine comes from grapes, again a farm although not called such.. The producers of our basic food stuffs are by and large very hard working, and are always complaining that there is no money in farming. Well thanks to the super markets that provide the outlet for the farmers crops, there is indeed no money in farming or at least, very little for the farmer.
Last night we watched a program hi- lighting the plight of the Irish poultry farmer. Chickens sell in the major supermarkets at 6 euros, great for the consumer, but how much does the farmer get?
Just 37 cents! This is not clear profit either, the processor/ packers provide the farmers with the day old chicks and the feed and  the poultry catchers, and this is a big part of the price of the chicken that appears in the supermarket, but nothing compared to the profit that the supermarket makes for their shareholders.
 Out of the 37cents that the farmer receives he still has to pay the heating costs of the houses, the litter ( we are talking deep litter production here) general maintenance and upkeep of the buildings and cleaning out between flocks,  disposal of the manure and  bio security .
The processor/packer gets around 35% about 2.20 per bird which sounds good but they provide the birds,  feed,  catchers and megga investment in the processing plants and are major employers.
The supermarkets on the other hand make a whopping 58% on each bird produced, basically just for renting out their shelf space.
Most people are aware of fair trade goods, normally sugar, coco products and fruit juices, mainly from third world countries and parts of Africa,   but is it not time that our own farmers are guaranteed a fair price for their product and a fair return for producing their products.
I know that this scandal does not just apply to the poultry industry,  our own farmers must receive a decent price regardless of what country we live in, if they are not we will all find ourselves buying  food from very dubious sources with no local production and land being left to revert to scrub land.
When we were producers we had a recommended retail price, we had worked out our cost of production , we then added the same amount again for our profit and reinvestment, we then used these figures for the recommended retail price, so our shops got one third, we had a profit of a third and the production  was one third .
 We did supply selected supermarkets, but on the understanding that they would not hike up the price, but we were dealing with the stores directly, not their central distribution offices. In the time we were producing we only had one shop that decided they would sell at a higher price than the one we recommended and they were not a supermarket. We withdrew our product as we did not want the consumer to be ripped off.
I don't know what the answer is to this problem, love them or hate them, supermarkets are here to stay and without them the farmers would have few options as to where to sell and would go out of business, but the writing is on the wall, it is only a matter of time before we lose our farmers and are entirely dependent on goods imported from far away. Supermarkets should be held to account, they should have some responsibility to their counties farmers and not just to their shareholders.
Each country needs a 'Fair Trade for our Own Farmers' campaign before we lose them forever.


  1. Are there farmer´s markets in Ireland? I love wandering around the ones here. It´s like a casino, if I have 10€, I spend 10€. If I have 20, I spend 20.

    The Galician dairy farmers are in really desperate straits - 2012 had them selling milk for .06 less than the cost of production per litre. No one is staying in business for long at that rate. It seems the big distributors are at fault there, as well.

  2. Well said, Anne, and that's from someone who earned his living in the Distribution side of super-marketing (HGVs and huge warehouses holding 5000+ pallets of stock). Something needs to happen. It's the squeezed farmers who can't afford to do the more welfare-based operations.

  3. Hi Coco, yes we do have lots of farmers markets here but they are not that well attended either by sellers or buyers unless you live in Dublin or Cork.What you are allowed to sell here is very restrictive, this is the Irish government's restrictions not the EU.Example if you own one hen you have to be registered by the dept. If you sell veg in a farmers market the veg must not be washed unless you have had your water tested by the local health board and by and large the Irish housewife will not buy dirty veg.You can not kill and sell poultry even as farm gate sales.To sell any baked goods you have to jump through very high hoops and vigorous health regulations.Unfortunately in the case of the Galician milk producers they are contracted to the main processor ( I cant remember the name off hand) it was through these contracts that they were able to get huge loans to upgrade their milking facilities, without this outlet they have no market, no market means they lose their farms as they are mortgaged up to the hilt, so French milk is imported into Spain, imported food gets import subsidy paid on it thus making it cheaper enabling the French milk to undercut the Spanish milk.

    Hi Matt, this program pointed out that these farmers could not afford to upgrade their houses to the new EU requirements, I don't know what these new welfare standards are, possibly slightly less stocking density's, but this would bring more problems, lower stocking = more heating = higher heating cost which they can't afford to pay now, it would also mean less product to sell at 37cent per bird at the end. Unless people wake up and stop looking for the cheapest food possible and realise that farmers are not machines that can be speeded up but are food producers who are doing the best they can we will lose the farming industry to overseas imports.
    In the UK and I'm sure Ireland's figures are about the same, the average food spent per household is just 11.5% of disposable income.

  4. Hi,
    Here in Western Massachusetts we are lucky, many food co-ops one which I joined in Northampton offers local meats, veggies and fruit. Because they are able to buy the meat in quanity, the cost is only a little more then what you would pay in a supermarket.
    There are farm stands and almost every town has a farmers market.
    In the states the big dairy agri-businesses had almost knocked local dairy farmers out of business. Now they are coming back with local milk farmers combining all their milk and putting it under their own brand name. Yes, its more expensive but you are supporting your neighbor, who in turn supports you. ABout 10 years ago we started The Crafts Of Colrain. It has helped support a dairy farm, and angora goat farm,my small farm of sheep and herbs and many more crafts people. Its a tour to each studio. It brings people up close and personal with what we do to bring our goods to market.
    The old saying The cheapest isn't always the best is true.
    Whispering Pines Farm

    I think its a whole educational process