Co-op Con Cam

18 Feb 2008

Tory leader David Cameron today encouraged British farmers to ‘reconnect with their customers’ and to move away from supermarkets, and to use alternative modes of distribution, such as box delivery systems, farmer’s markets and local cooperative shops, instead.

‘These three things, I believe, will help us face down the ever-growing threat to our food security,’ Cameron told farmers in a presentation to the National Farmers’ Union, adding that some analysts recommend food security be taken as seriously as energy or national security.

The measures to support local farming have been formulated in response to fears that Britain will be highly vulnerable, if the era of abundant food supplies comes to an end as predicted. Concerns are based on China and India’s growing economies and food production, the new market for bio-fuels and the impact of global warming.

Cameron would like to see the supermarkets’ monopoly over farmers broken through the establishment of US-style neighborhood food co-ops across Britain. Such stores are set up by groups of people and provide locally produced, seasonal food bought directly from suppliers at a fair price. Tory activist and campaigner Jesse Norman will launch a book this week explaining how to set up food co-ops in Britain.

Unhappy with attempts by grocery giants to force down the price received by producers, members of the National Farmers’ Union have been campaigning against supermarkets. Farmers describe the supermarkets as generating a ‘culture of fear’ by, among other things, forcing suppliers to meet the costs of their promotions and ditching suppliers who publicly complain.

The Competition Commission has proposed that an independent ombudsman be appointed to rule on farmers’ complaints. For his part, Cameron will also call on Europe to bring an end to farmer subsidies, thereby creating a level playing field with regard to agricultural regulations and giving British farmers a better chance to be competitive.

Guardian Unlimited

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