SUPERMARKETS must take responsibility for the damage their actions inflict on the environment both locally and globally, John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association.

Mr Thorley was speaking on Tuesday (October 12) at the Family Farmers‘ Association‘s 25th anniversary conference at the University of Reading.

“Retailers must recognise that the privotal role which they have claimed in our lives comes with responsibilities and is not just about them returning large profits to their investors,” he said.

“The actions they take occupy pole position in how farming relates to the environment, to the landscape and to the rural economy.”

He also criticised the Government for linking into the supermarkets‘ push to constantly reduce food prices and attacked the retailers for their continued sourcing of food from around the world.

“The supermarkets and their buying policies cannot escape the indictment that they are contributing in a major way to global warming and the ultimate destruction of the world as we know it by their policies of flying food into the UK from all over the world,” Mr Thorley said.

He suggested introducing a tax on pollution from aviation and bringing aviation fuel tax up to the level which applies for domestic fuel.

These measures might not be popular initially, Mr Thorley admitted, but he argued that they would be efficient in terms of reducing carbon dioxide pollution.

They would also bring tangible benefits for UK farmers in that food imports would be reduced and a stronger awareness of the environmental importance of local food production would be created, he claimed.

“The farming economy would in a short time resume an influence which is in line with its importance.

“There would be a more immediate understanding of the benefit of shorter, more local, as opposed to global, food supply lines,” Mr Thorley said

He added there would be positive consequences also in terms of a more diverse range of farm sizes with a beneficial effect on the landscape and all the associated rural economies.

Focusing particularly on livestock farming, he argued that the stage has been reached where “forcing extensive livestock farms to get even bigger is a downright impediment to the legitimate ambition of Government to encourage sustainability”.

There is a limit to the number of animals which can be looked after properly by one person, he said

He also pointed out that the economic pressure which forces the farmer to keep more stock, can also have a negative impact on the environment, since “inadequate ratios of stockmen or women to stock lead directly to under- and overgrazing”.

“The family farm, in my view, and not only in this country but around the world, has an important part to play in realigning the production systems.

“Sustainability of farming in economic, environmental and social terms can best be achieved through the medium of a well-structured farm which brings involvement where possible from family members as and when appropriate,” Mr Thorley said,

He also claimed that if this realisation fully entered the public domain, it would be “totally realistic to forecast a very good future for the family farm”.