In a keynote speech to his party’s annual conference in Bournemouth, shadow DEFRA secretary Tim Farron called for fair trade for all farmers.
“We have the tragic irony of millions of consumers going to the supermarket each week, going down one aisle and buying fair trade Columbian coffee and then going down the next aisle and buying the milk to put in that fair trade coffee from an exploited British dairy farmer.”
It shouldn’t matter whether a farmer was from Columbia or Cumbria, Mr Farron told delegates on Monday (21 September).
“Supermarket greed is forcing farmers out of business. So while world food demand is set to double over the next 40 years, we are losing the capacity to produce it.
“This situation is not just immoral, it’s completely stupid.”
The “big beasts” of the food market were behaving the way the big banks had done – risking the future for the sake of short term gain.
Thousands of farmers were seeing their lives work go down the plughole, said Mr Farron.
“So I pledge to you that I will introduce a powerful food market regulator to enforce fair trade for British farmers.”
It was wrong that farmers were going under. Hill farmers were working 80 hours a week for an annual income of £8000 because supermarkets had them over a barrel.
At the same time, the price supermarkets paid farmers for milk had fallen by nearly one-third – but the retail price for a litre of milk had hardly changed.
“The farmers incomes are slashed, the consumers don’t benefit, the supermarkets pocket the difference.”
Mr Farron said thousands of farmers were surviving on an hourly rate less than he received for stacking shelves when a teenager.
“They are working 15 hours a day, seven days a week, with no holidays, with no security of accommodation and reliant on farm payments.”
There would be no need for farm payments if farmers got a fair price for their produce, Mr Farron claimed.
The same exploitation happened right across our food market in every sector of farming, he added.