Co-operative stores could sell good quality food produced on its farms by workers on decent terms and conditions

Molly Scott Cato* writes:

molly scott cato 4Comments from the Co-operative Group that the Co-operative Farms are a ‘non-core’ part of the business, suggests that the current generation of co-operative managers have a short-sighted view about their role in providing customers access to a reliable source of ‘good food’.

In my 2010 paper, The co-operative path to food security, I pointed to the increasing volatility of global food prices as speculators moved their gambling activities from financial products to commodities markets.

Charities working with the poor of the global South are increasingly focusing on the link between poverty and control over food supplies, which includes ownership of land. Without that control, our daily bread might become subject to the forces of extortion that have destroyed our banks and left us with the politics of austerity.

As a green economist I want the food I bought in my local Co-op to be produced as locally as possible. The Co-operative shops have not been successful in this regard because of their centralised distribution system, but my Midcounties Co-op has been building up its Local Harvest offer in recent years; I’m surely not the only customer who looks to see whether the vegetables on the shelves have been grown on the Co-operative Farms.

Local harvest pic text

The threat to sell the Co-operative Group’s farmlands and destroy the livelihoods they support pushes the possibility of sustainable local supply chains further away than ever. For me, co-operation is about two things: achieving justice in the supply chain by removing the possibility of the extraction of profit by those who do not earn it; and insulating ourselves against the worst excesses of the global capitalist economy.

*Molly Scott Cato is a member of the Welsh Government’s Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission. In March, the Commission published its report, which makes recommendations on growing and developing the co-operative and mutual economy in Wales, in order to create jobs and wealth.

Time to change: Professor Lang’s challenge: embrace local sourcing

tim langSusan Press in the Co-operative News reports a challenge issued by Professor Tim Lang, Head of City University London’s Centre for Food Policy, to the Co-operative Group. It is time to radically change the way food is delivered and distributed to the Group’s 4,800 retail outlets:

“At a time of growing interest in locally sourced food, he thinks there should be far more support for producers supplying direct to local stores. He says: “I think the co-op has lost its way a bit. Back in the 19th century, the first co-operators led the movement against the adulteration of our food and sourced local food which everyone could afford.

Unfortunately, the Co-operative Group has gone down the road of emulating the supply chain model of its major competitors with regional distribution centres and centralised supplies . . .

“But our food supply is being more and more standardised by very big and powerful companies. There are more local artisan and special interest foods, so we have come a long way, but small producers are held back by lack of access to land, ownership of which is dominated by large landowners.”

One of Professor Lang’s current concerns is the growing concern around food security – the availability of food and access to it

He points out that worldwide, figures show around two billion people are going hungry and for the first time in decades the number of food banks in the UK has tripled in the last 12 months.

Lang says: “For the first time since 1945 we are living at a time of rapidly rising inequality, with around five million people living in poverty according to the recent report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission”. He looked at the history of the co-operative movement:

“In 1994, the Group set up the Responsible Retailing Code, building fair and sustainable relationships with suppliers across its whole supply chain across the world, also leading the way on Fairtrade. It was pioneering stuff, but we need to be building upon that knowledge and working for more sustainable food thinking concerned with the future of biodiversity and our eco-systems . . .

“Like the other major retailers, the Co-operative Group goes for cheap meat reared on cereals. Around 40 to 50 per cent of our cereals are fed to animals. We need more grass-fed meat and dairy and we all need to eat less meat and double consumption of fruit and vegetables because we are storing up huge problems for the future  . . .

“We don’t need supermarkets offering 35,000 lines or people working hard to earn enough money to buy a car so they can drive to the local hypermarket. We need to look at what things will be like in 2050; the effects of climate change and the billions more people there will be on the planet. We need to establish a good food culture which is also good for the environment.

“Stores have to have better access to local food with a shorter supply chain and we have got to re-design the whole food system because frankly it is environmentally crazy.”

Read the whole article here: http://www.thenews.coop/article/time-change-food-professor-issues-challenge-embrace-local-sourcing

 

Professor Lang was the first to coin the term ‘food miles’ – in the 1990s – to describe the distance groceries have to travel to reach us. He was invited to set up the London Food Commission in the 1980s with the Greater London Council, which did some of the earliest work on the effect of food poverty. He pointed out the damage done to school and hospital meal services by government policy, making a major contribution to the Food Safety Act (1990) and the creation of the Food Standards Agency (2000). He has been a consultant to the World Health Organisation, a special advisor to four House of Commons select committee inquiries on food standards globalisation and obesity and was on the Council of Food Policy Advisors to DEFRA.

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