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Big Issue: The NFU's Ian Johnson on rising food prices

By The Citizen  |  Posted: November 20, 2012

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HOW about this to get you choking on your cornflakes?

Every day the global population increases by 200,000 and there won't be one of them that doesn't want feeding!

An article leapt out at me online, headlined: "High food prices are here to stay – and here's why".

The thrust was that droughts, floods, oil prices, accelerating demand from the world's new "rich" in the Far East and, by no means least, commodity speculation were combining to produce a vicious upward thrust in food prices, with those in Britain, as you won't need me to tell you, rising faster than most.

Actually it was the first reader posting after the article which caught my eye. It read: "A comment from a Kosovan I once met: We all got along fine when times were good – until there wasn't enough to go round."

Says it all really, doesn't it?

Because, other than the decreasing numbers who were around during the war and its immediate aftermath, there's nobody in this country who really has any notion of food being anything other than plentiful and cheap, which may account for the millions of tonnes of the stuff we throw away, an average of £270-worth a year per UK family according to a recent survey by frozen food giant Bird's Eye.

But it's a short step from profligacy to panic because, whenever there's the faintest whiff of anything running short or any impending "interruption" to supply, such as Christmas Day, supermarket shelves are emptied faster than locusts moving through Egypt!

So have we become too accustomed to food being there, on tap, 24/7, in pristine form at rock bottom prices from our "friendly" superstores?

They have loved to lure us in and away from their rivals with the blandishments of "bogofs" – "buy one, get one free" – or, classically, "loss-leaders" like milk, often bought daily and rendering purchasers open to other temptations once in the store.

But, here's the rub, they don't particularly want to have to pick up the tab for their "largesse" at the expense of their shareholders and it is not unknown for them to pass the price-cutting "parcel" back to the poor guy who has got nobody else to pass it to – the farmer.

Even this cold-blooded "capitalism" pales into insignificance, however, compared with our old chums, the aforementioned speculators.

Apparently since regulation was rolled back in the late 90s, the hedge funds have spotted a milch cow and the share of the food market owned by speculators has increased from 12% to 61% with the amount of financial speculation on food nearly doubling in the last five years from $65billion to $126billion.

That's before you factor in Mother Nature and her possible reaction to global warming.

This summer the UK and US harvests were savaged by different extremes.

Perhaps the one glimmer of light is that we still have the productive capacity here in the South West, with thousands of non-farming jobs depending on it, despite the Blair government eschewing British agriculture in favour of wunderkind bankers and asserting that all our food could be imported.

Because if farmers here are forced out of business by higher production costs and inadequate returns and we start depending on those further afield to fill our fridges, what seems like a big bill now may seem like a bargain basement later.

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  • Bonkim2003  |  November 20 2012, 9:49PM

    Spot on - add to that the population explosion, and accelerating resource depletion - we all will have to tighten our belts, grin, and bear it.

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