Prince Charles spoke out on a number of agricultural issues in a series of extraordinary “secret letters”, revealed under the Freedom of Information Act.
In particular, the prince asked former prime minister Tony Blair and his government to look again at introducing a cull of badgers, saying he did not understand the “badger lobby”.
The prince asks if extra money could be funneled to help beef producers.
“Every support must be given to beef farmers so that they can seize the new opportunities and cope with the reduction in support – in other words they must be encouraged to co-operate and learn about marketing,” he wrote.
The Office of Fair Trading is a big problem in the dairy sector, the prince wrote.
He said farmer-owned co-ops were growing but the OFT was holding them back from taking more than 25% of market share.
“Unless United Kingdom co-operatives can grow sufficiently the processors and retailers will continue to have the farmers in an arm lock and we will continue to shoot ourselves in the foot.”
Single farm payments
The prince asked the prime minister about computer problems delaying single farm payment cheques to farmers, suggesting he could make an interim payout to producers.
“I do think that this is something well worth considering to reduce hardship and uncertainty.”
“There is no doubt that the dominant position of the retailers is the single biggest issue affecting British farmers and the food chain,” wrote the prince.
There had been “some particularly shocking examples” of retailer behaviour – some of which he said appeared to contravene the Supermarket Code of Practice (the precursor to the Groceries Code of Practice).
He suggested a person for the role of independent arbitrator (which latterly became the grocery code adjudicator), but the name is redacted.
Writing back, Tony Blair described the retailers as having an “arm lock on suppliers”.
The prince said he was anxious about the UK’s lack of food self-sufficiency and said the fall in self-sufficiency from 74% in 1994 to 64% in 2004, was a “worrying trend.”