Farmings lost control

10 January 1997

Farmings lost control

of markets – Ashdown

By Shelley Wright

FARMERS have lost control of their markets and are now controlled and manipulated by the major retailers and chemical firms, warned Lib-Dem leader Paddy Ashdown.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference dinner on Monday, Mr Ashdown also accused farmers of tending to assume that the public, their customers, neither knew or needed to know about food production. "And I have noticed too the easy assumption of farmers that the animal feed companies, the chemical multi-nationals, the bureaucrats and the scientists and politicians were trustworthy allies and co-conspirators," he added.

It took the BSE crisis to make farmers realise that they had been conned by forces beyond their control. "I believe BSE – hard though it has been for many farmers – is actually a symptom of something much deeper and much more dangerous for the whole farming industry," he said.

BSE had proved once and for all that the farming industry had lost control of its markets and that they were now owned, manipulated and controlled by others.

"And what makes it even more serious is that your customers – the general public who buy your food and eat it – believe that they have lost control too," he added. The subsidy system now defined the market for farmers, with Whitehall regulating what was agreed in Brussels. "And huge corporations, many of them supra-national, have disproportionate power over all three," he said. With little independent science being done any more, the government increasingly had to rely on the expertise of the commercial sector.

Mr Ashdown said he did not blame farmers for "allowing yourselves to be relieved of the responsibility of marketing by the large subsidies dangled in front of you by the politicians and bureaucrats".

Nor did he blame them for adopting the technology provided by the chemical giants.

Consumers, said Mr Ashdown, were now bewildered. They did not know what they were buying, or what was in it, or "what diseases or poisons they might be buying into their family when they purchase it".

Freedom of choice had to be restored, he insisted. The establishment of an independent food commission, reporting to Parliament, would ensure that food safety was no longer left to the multi-national food firms, retailers or chemical giants.

Mr Ashdown also suggested there should be a national long-term strategy for farmers that could act as a framework for both public policy and private decisions. Farmers also had to realise that the consumer was their ally, not their enemy.

Paddy Ashdown:Recommended an independent food commission.

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