“Food supply chains in Europe are extraordinarily long and complex, involving multiple food business entities and opaque corporate structural engineering, which increases the difficulty for adequate inspection and regulation, and opens the door for fraud and criminal activity. It makes it difficult to work out who is responsible for what, and who’s to blame when things go wrong – see the lurid story in the Observer”.
These are the words of Scottish MEP Alyn Smith, SNP member of the Greens/European Free Alliance Group, in an article published on the website of the European Parliament’s Information Office in the United Kingdom.
He adds that a by-product of our system is that about 90 million tonnes of agricultural produce is wasted annually in Europe and about a third of the food for human consumption is wasted globally.
This happens at many points along the food supply chain, from harvesting losses to supermarket quality controls and – after sale – through poor purchasing decisions or food management by some consumers who only consider the sticker price.
The social costs – what kind of a world is it when:
- those who till the soil to fill our dinner-plates can barely make enough to survive for another planting season,
- milk and alcohol can retail at a lower price in the supermarkets than water,
- disgusting slop can be served up to our children and our hospital patients on the grounds of “cost competitiveness”,
- the number of malnourished people is roughly equivalent to the number of obese people
- and when the fanatic search for lower prices amidst intense competition leads to the entry of the Mafia into our food chain?
“We need nothing less than a food revolution”
Alyn Smith believes that this can be achieved through buying local produce and notes anecdotal evidence that sales at local butchers are up 20-25%:
“Short supply chains, farmers markets and quality labels cut out the middle men, enabling direct purchase by consumers and a guarantee for transparency and quality: it boosts the local economy as well, protects diversity in the retail sector and helps keep our farmers on the land. The Scottish Government have already invested £200,000 in farmers markets, and promoted education about healthy eating in schools.
A call for fair trade in Britain
“And we need to push harder for reforms to the EU’s competition rules, to ensure farmers can get the bargaining power they need for a fair price, and reduce the power of supermarkets to crush their smaller brethren”.
”Let’s seize the opportunity, not just to fix the immediate problems of fraud in food labelling and adequate inspections and controls, but to fix our food chain to make it fairer for producers and consumers alike”.