Food, Farming and Social Inequality

Free Range Dairy | Cows in the roadBack in the news are the secret Brexit reports which have looked at the economic damage Brexit could cause the UK once we leave the EU.  You would think that these reports would have been released before the vote on whether to Leave or Remain in the EU was made but they weren’t, and many people are now worried about the true scale and impact this decision will have on us.

So far, the reason for suppressing these reports is because the government fears this will give others the upper hand when it comes to negotiating an exit deal. However according to The Independent newspaper ‘Pressure is building on Theresa May to release 58 secret studies into the economic damage from Brexit, as a “binding vote” looms in the Commons. Labour believes it has found an ancient Parliamentary procedure that can force the Prime Minister to end her suppression of the findings.’

One of the reports looks at the impact leaving the EU will have on food prices and this time it was Michael Gove who came under fire for suppressing the report.

When I hear about how food prices will rise I get fearful that what follows will be the reasons why we need to ramp up factory farming practices in the UK. At a recent conference by WWF and Compassion in World Farming called Extinction and Livestock, the problems factory farming is causing for people and planet was examined and basically there is no real gains from these types of food production practices.

Food prices have nothing to do with food availability. It is the lack of money in peoples’ pockets from low wages or benefits that’s the problem. If there was a problem with availability of food, there wouldn’t be so many food banks springing up to feed people who can’t afford to buy food. That is the real reason for the need for cheap food, not because we have to feed an increasing population but because people aren’t paid a living wage and can’t afford to buy better quality food.  When we look at food issues such as food prices which can be used to dictate policies on factory farming, we shouldn’t overlook social inequality when weighing up the options.

I used to work for Save the Children on child poverty in the UK and I often went to work with children in places that would be described as areas of deprivation. What struck me was the lack of access to good quality food. On every corner would be a chicken shop, pizza, burger and kebabs, so by the availability of this cheap processed food we can see that factory farming has already made its mark on the population. Often a local convenience store would have some vegetables or fruit that was expensive and well past its sell by date. For the price of buying those vegetables, you could buy a family bucket of chicken. Great for the factory farmers selling cheap chicken but not so great for the health of the people in the area, the NHS and other public services expected to subsidise this cheap food.

Councils had policies to help bring affordable fresh fruit and vegetables into these food deserts but with funding cuts I bet not many survived. Bristol city council, which is famous for supporting local food production, allotments as well as the BBC food and farming awards was awarded a silver sustainable food city award in 2016, but even there people struggle to eat well. “In Avonmouth, a deprived part of north Bristol, you can get two eight-packs of Penguins chocolate biscuits for a pound, yet it costs 50p for an apple,”

Brexit offers us a different future for food and farming in the UK. Some will want to get rid of that pesky red tape such as animal welfare regulations, food safety regulations, environment policies to name just a few, basically the red tape that keeps our food safe and protects animals, wildlife and the environment.  But others want to use this as an opportunity to shape a future that benefits a few at the expense of the majority.

I often wonder what came first, cheap food to prop up a system where low wages and zero contract hours are becoming the accepted norm or was the access to cheap food how these changes to our society could happen?

Free Range Dairy Network is a grassroots movement to the core. A minimum, not average, of 180 days and nights grazing on pasture each year is one of our major standards for producing Pasture Promise free range milk.  We support organisations like Sustain and Eating Better because our current food and farming policies are broken and we need an alternative that feeds and nourishes our society and its population, whilst delivering a fair deal for farmers and cows.

We have some tough decisions ahead and it’s time for people who care about the future of food and farming to come together to show their support for an alternative vision. Because it’s not just food and farming we’re fighting for but a better and fairer society for everyone.

To get involved and show your support take the Pasture Promise, as well as ask for Pasture Promise free range milk when you buy milk or your daily coffee.

You can also take action at Sustain, World Animal Protection, Compassion in World Farming and Eating Better.

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