Cows and farmers are undevalued
Cows in the Tamar Valley © Joss Sanglier

Dairy Farming in the United Kingdom is in trouble as farmers face a reduction in the price of milk.

The food supply chain in much of the world is one of the few industries that uses a completely bottom up approach. The price of most goods in the world is dictated by how much it cost to manufacture or how much the core ingredient cost to produce. Each company down the line from the initial producer then puts their own markup on the price until it reaches the retailer who charges the consumer to cover everything that happened before, plus their own profit.

With food, and especially core products like milk, the end supplier dictates the price they want to charge the consumer and then everyone who comes before takes their profit from that price until it reaches the producer who gets what is left.  This happens when the largest retailer of a product becomes far more powerful than the producer and effectively can blackmail the entire supply chain – pay this price or be without any market for your product.

The argument by the huge retailers in the UK is that this is good for the consumer. But is it? Continue reading

Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall Fish FightHugh’s Fish Fight – The Battle Continues. Channel 4 at 9pm. This is one of those Campaigns that has been a complete no-brainer – around the world we fish in such a way that wastes a huge amount of fish and has shoved many species onto the endangered lists. Forget animal rights, this just defies any sort of economic sense – catch a ton of fish, then throw half of it away. The responsibility for this lies with everyone – the politicians because they have stupid rules and the rest of us because we dont eat a wide enough variety of fish. “Yuk!, it has a bone in it!!”

Six months ago Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall of River Cottage fame launched a campaign which saw over 700,000 people sign a petition. However, this was not a simple protest, over a series of programmes and with the help of people like Jamie Oliver, Hugh not only posed solutions, but also tried to find new and interesting ways of getting us to eat things like Dab fish, more mackerel and so on – Hugh, deep fried mackerel fillets are wonderful, mate!

Tonight, on Channel 4 we are to be treated to an update. Hugh, sporting a new haircut (not a great move), takes us through the last six months – it is reporting on updates about Discards (throwing away good fish because it is not part of the quota, or there is no market), reporting from the EU and seeing the launch of the campaign in a further 11 languages.

This must be worth watching, and if you have’t already, sign the petition and try out some of the recipes!

Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall is at it again. This time he has jumped the rabbit proof fence of the chicken coop and landed right up to his neck in the dangerous waters of the Common Fisheries Policy.  For an island race, the British are pretty useless about fish – many, many people do not eat fish at all, still more are stuck at the fishfinger stage, and of the rest, many rarely stray past a bit of farmed salmon and a cod and chips.

And yet, around our coasts we have a huge range of fish ready to be taken into our kitchens and turned into wonderful food.

It is difficult to trace where we have gone off the boil with fish, but I suspect that much of it is plain laziness, the same laziness that has seen fast food and processed meals take over our diets during the last 50 years.  Fish like Salmon and Cod are easy fish – they are large beasts with plenty of bone free muscle that allows for large chunky fillets that are easy to eat. Compare that to a really fresh sardine, with its fine bones and people will plump for the easy alternative time and time again. Continue reading

This was the question I was asked by Compassion in World Farming. Apparently 62 councils in the UK, plus the House of Common and the House of Lords, have made the decision to go Cage Free – that is, they source the eggs for council services from non-battery producers.

Of course, my council, Milton Keynes, is predictably not one of those. So I filled in the Form at the website and mailed the three councillors for my ward. I have had one reply from Philip Wharton, Conservative:

“I am a strong believer in consumer choice and currently that is what we have. Consumers can buy battery eggs or free range the choice is there to be made by each one of us.”

He goes on to say that for himself he buys free range as he prefers the taste but that many people cannot afford Free Range. He obviously misses the point that I was asking that the council should not buy Battery eggs, not for him to tell the public not too.

I understand the argument about cost, but so many countries, like France, use a very small proportion of battery eggs (though they export them to us, I gather), that it must be possible to keep chickens in good conditions and have sensible pricing. However, while politicians would rather simply shrug off the issue as some one else’s choice or problem, we will never get anywhere.

If ever a campaign was ddomed to long term failure, this would surely be it. But if ever there was a more worthy campaign, however doomed, I have not seen it. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has fast made his name as someone who cares where his plateful originates, and has built a successful business and TV strand on the back of it. The various outing s of the RIver Cottage brand has become famous, though maybe to a more select few than it deserves.

Hugh’s latest presentation has been that of his Chickens Out campaign, with which I am proud to associate myself. The chicken out, in this case, refers to getting chicken out of the barns and back to the pastures and woodland where they belong and where they are happy and content. But this is not some puritanical vegan plea, this has a worthwhile selfish motive, as well as a caring one.

The first is to stop the cruelty exhibited byt he 95% of producers in this country when they cram chickens under cover – however many bales of straw they through in. The second, selfish endeavour, is to simply encoruage the production of a finer bird for out tables.

In France, 40% of chicken production is free range, with most of the intensive farming going on chicken products and for export. McDonald, for instance. On the high street, the vast bulk of the chickens are small, beautifully produced, free range birds. In the UK, on the other hand, getting a free range bird from anywhere is an uphill fight. But we have two problems here. For too long our culture, food wise, has been about quantity not quality, and second we have shown the most blatant case of not giving a damn. We want enormous, fat tasteless breasts on our plate, and damn the bird in the process. We are obese, flatulent and spiteful, and the bird is suffering for our excess.

In recent times I have started buying smaller, free range birds – smaller because I cannot afford big free range birds. But what delight! I have discovered the stronger more satisfying taste of the smaller bird, and realised in the process that I do not miss the quantity. My salads have grown, my vegetables exhibit a growth in variety, and my meals have taken on a new vitality. My cooking has also simplified, as these better tasting birds take far less work – they are delightful as they are.

So, back to Hugh’s noble campaign. The three part show on channel 4 was an eye-opener, even to myself who has been banging on about this for 20 years or more. The direct, sickening comparison between barn and free range was violent and obscene. It was simply a condemnation of the continuing rip-off food practices of this country, established post-war during rationing and given new impetus by the deceitful supermarket lobbies. Hugh’s campaign deserves to succeed, purely on the evidence presented in the programme alone. But it does not and should not end there.

We should care about our food. We should make it a priority that our food is sustainable, well cared for and yet accessible to all, not just those of higher income brackets. How we do this, of course, is a touch of a mystery, but it may take getting rid of Kentucky and many prepacked rubbish and concentrating on small is beautiful in the process. Afterall, we also have a waistline issue in this country.

My guts tell me this will fail. My heart tells me, however, that we should all try and make this campaign succeed – just in case! Go and sign up at Chicken Out right now