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Independent Green Voice

FAIR TRADE FOR BRITISH FARMERS

Alistair baling in the trusty David Brown 990

Alistair McConnachie writes:
The "FairTrade" mark is, according to www.fairtrade.org.uk "the only consumer label that focuses on ensuring farmers in developing countries receive an agreed and stable price for the crops they grow, as well as additional income to invest for the future."

It is a good idea, although some typical types slate it as "encouraging inefficiency".

Well, of course it encourages "inefficiency" -- in the sense that British farmers are "inefficient" when compared to others globally; in the sense that the 200,000 dairy farmers in the UK 50 years ago were "less efficient" than the 12,000 ones left who are still struggling "efficiently" to survive; in the sense that small high street shops are "inefficient" when compared to Tesco; in the sense that we are all "inefficient" now, when it comes right down to it!

If you think it is a good thing that tens of thousands of small farmers in the UK should lose their livelihoods because they are "inefficient" when thrust into the global marketplace, or if you think it good that small shops should be driven off our high streets because they are "inefficient" when compared with Tesco's football field-sized shops -- then no doubt you too will find a good reason to attack the FairTrade concept for "encouraging inefficiency"!

However, for those of us who believe in Trade Justice and who believe that an economy geared towards food sovereignty and localism is preferable to one geared towards food dependence and globalism, then you will see that the basic idea is very sound.

The essence of the FairTrade concept is the payment of a "fair price" which ensures economic sustainability for both the producers and retailers, working together within a long-term mutually beneficial relationship, enabling both to plan ahead in economic security.

Independent Green Voice understands that there are obvious differences between the situation of farmers in the developing world and those in the developed, nevertheless if we locate the plight of British agriculture within the context of economic globalisation worldwide, then we can see that many of the same economic dynamics are operating in this country, as operate in the rest of the world.

PHILOSOPHY of FAIR TRADE for BRITISH FARMERS
FairTrade is about encouraging ethical purchasing as part of an ethical world view.

Increasing the returns to farmers, however, to make farming in the UK economically sustainable is the key issue. However, if the "Fair Trade for British Farmers" movement, as we call it, simply concentrates on this aspect then it would not be articulating the very broad range of benefits which also accrue from the FairTrade ethical attitude and which have the potential to appeal to a great number of people across the social and political spectrum -- many of whom might not normally give farming a second thought but all of whom British farming needs on its side, if it is not only to survive but to prosper, for the benefit of us all.

WHO is INTERESTED?
The Fair Trade for British Farmers movement could potentially attract people who are concerned with - and here we base our list on that which was first compiled by Richard Boden:

  • Globalisation
  • Localisation, including more local shops
  • Global warming
  • Traffic congestion
  • Illness and injury caused by road traffic
  • The balance of payments deficit
  • Loss of bio-diversity and wildlife in the countryside
  • Recycling and Britain's 'waste crisis'
  • Poor diet and its ill effects, including obesity
  • The loss of nutritional food
  • Pollution and ill health caused by chemical dependant agriculture
  • The well being of developing countries
  • Our absolute dependence on oil
  • National independence and food sovereignty
  • Falling employment in agriculture and allied industries
  • Animal welfare -- much imported meat is not produced to the same standards as British meats
  • Loss of community; 'clone town Britain'
  • The cost to the taxpayer of propping up agriculture and the rural economy

Fair Trade for British Farmers should not be seen as just a temporary way for some farmers to make more money, or to jump on a bandwagon for short-term gain.

Rather it is something which indicates a permanent realignment of attitude towards the supply and consumption of food. An attitude to living which locates British farming and growing within a wider, ethical, national and global context.

Fair Trade for British Farmers will enhance the country's health, the rural economy, environmental protection, the biodiversity of the landscape, wildlife management, and animal welfare in the UK -- and worldwide as countries abroad are forced to improve their own standards.

It is also a way of reaching out and helping to breach the urban/rural divide -- about bringing the people together for mutual benefit. It builds the nation's food sovereignty and self-sufficiency in indigenous food (that which can be produced in this country) and ensures an economic future for farmers and their families, and a countryside for the rest of us to enjoy.

LOCALISATION is the CONTEXT
Fair Trade for UK Farmers has to be situated within a localising economic context.

As an economic philosophy, localisation rejects the often environmentally and socially damaging globalising mantra of 'international competitiveness'. It says that what can be produced within a country should be. Long-distance trade should supply only what cannot be produced within the local economy.

This helps to ensure that governments and peoples maintain control over their own economy, for their own benefit.

Its opposite, globalisation, is the de-regulation of all trading conditions, which results in taking power away from governments and peoples, and thereby destroying the ability of individuals, communities and nation-states to determine their own existence, while wrecking the world's ecology.

OVERVIEW of LOCALISING POLICIES
Colin Hines, in his book Localization: A Global Manifesto, (London: Earthscan, 2000), developed a set of policies to protect the local globally and bring on localisation, which include:

  • safeguarding national and regional economies against imports of goods and services that can be produced locally
  • site-here-to-sell-here rules for industry and services
  • localising money flows to rebuild the economies of communities
  • local competition policies to ensure high quality goods and services
  • introduction of resource and pollution taxes to pay for the transition, while protecting the environment
  • fostering democratic involvement in the local economic and political systems
  • a redirection of trade and aid, geared to help the rebuilding of local economies, rather than international competitiveness.

Within that context we can establish more specific policies...

OVERVIEW of FAIR TRADE for BRITISH FARMERS POLICIES

We endorse the 8 policies set down by Robin Page and Zac Goldsmith intended to put British farming back on the road to health. (See Robin Page, "Country Diary", The Daily Telegraph, weekend sec., 7-1-06, p.14)

1. Break the arm lock of the supermarkets. In an effort to encourage local sourcing, taxes on supermarket food should be based on the road and air miles that their stock has travelled. Supermarket car park spaces should also be taxed. We would add that such taxes should be paid into a body tasked with promoting British food.

2. A tax on aviation fuel for freight would level the playing field between local and global.

3. Export farmers required to adopt the same standards required by British farmers. Imported meat should have a passport to show all movement from the point of origin.

4. Policy of local food procurement, imposed on local authorities, schools, universities, civil service, the military and hospitals.

5. A two-tier regulation allowing local food to have less stringent regulations than those for produce travelling thousands of miles. The aim is "Relax locally, tighten globally." It is common sense that hygiene rules for food travelling from the other side of the world should be stricter than those for local produce, yet British food often has greater strictures than imported food. This would also encourage the introduction of local abattoirs.

6. Reinstate the Milk Marketing Board to move away from ecologically damaging milk production which is driven by the need to intensify to survive.

7. Deficiency payments should be the method of subsidy, with a built in upper limit to prevent the creation of subsidy millionaires. In a year of good prices there will be little to pay and in a year of bad prices there will be more to pay. It is possible that with the supermarkets tamed, then there would be fairer market prices anyway, and the subsidies paid would be lower.

8. Leave the Common Agricultural Policy, since the above is not possible with the system.

To these we can add:

  • Promote British food by expanding promotional events like British Food Fortnight, backed by good PR campaigns.
  • Support farmer-led marketing initiatives and co-operatives. It is because the industry lacks marketing power that it lacks bargaining power with the supermarkets.

FAIR TRADE and SUPERMARKETS

  • We need a strengthened and legally-binding supermarket Code of Practice with the appointment of an independent ombudsman. The main concern here is to secure fair trade between the major supermarkets and their suppliers, and to ensure that supermarkets do not abuse their position. There is a Supermarkets Code of Practice at the moment, but the Office of Fair Trading has acknowledged that suppliers feels so vulnerable that there is a fear of complaining. The Code is ineffective so long as there is no protection for supermarket suppliers who complain. Thus in addition we needů
  • An Independent Regulator to ensure fair trade by investigating complaints and protecting food suppliers -- such as farmers and growers -- from reprisals. The Regulator would also protect the interests of consumers and retailers and ensure that the farmer, the farmers' co-op, the processor, small retailers, the supermarket and the consumer are all getting a fair deal. This body could be responsible for operating the "FairTradeUK" mark.
  • Legislation to Restrict Market Power of Major Food Retailers, including Limiting Market Share to ensure no individual business may be responsible for more than a certain percentage of UK food retailing.
  • Target regulations for stocking local and British food.
  • Tax penalties on the stocking of produce from overseas when the same produce is available at home.
  • Tax incentives to stock locally-produced food.
  • Supermarkets statutorily required to draw up A Fair Trade Charter for Local Produce which will commit supermarkets to demonstrate their commitment to the local community.
  • Ensure clear country-of-origin labelling.

THINGS we CAN do as INDIVIDUALS
What can we do as individuals? Simple things -- buy local and British whenever possible. Ensure your Christmas turkey is British and free-range, if not organic. Buy free-range or organic eggs instead of battery.

It is very empowering and satisfying to shop ethically. As consumers, we have considerable power. As we change our attitudes, so we challenge the entire globalist economic system.

Sometimes when we look at globalisation we may think we are simply snowflakes in the wind, but joined up snowflakes make avalanches!

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