It’s a promise that the general director of Tesco, Philip Clarke, made within the last couple of days: to bring meat production closer to home and to work more closely with British farmers. Sainsburys too, has agreed to double the amount of British food sold in stores by 2020. Even before this, in early February, UK poultry suppliers voiced concerns over higher-welfare policies and inflating food prices. In the midst of the “horsegate” scandal our food is coming under more testing and it’s sourcing under closer scrutiny. Could you really tell the difference between a British chicken and a Lithuanian chicken? And why does it matter? Why should we be supporting British chickens?
The latter two questions are easy to answer. The positive testing of horsemeat in beefburgers has clearly shown the problems of not onl poorly-tracked importations but also a supply chain that is under pressure from demand for low prices and a lack of accountability. British farmers need supporting as they are increasingly squeezed by retailers manipulation of the supply chain in order to satisfy our calls for ever-lower prices. As for the chickens, well, many countries don’t meet with the level of welfare that the UK insists upon and neither it is always sustainable farming. That is not to say that all British farming is without problems, but it is certainly picked up on a lot more.
Clarke’s announcement that Tesco will only sell British chicken by July 2013 was welcomed by the Scottish National Union of Famers’ President, Nigel Miller, but the poultry chairman, Duncan Priestner, called for Clarke to commit to pay producers a fair price, just as Clarke promised he would ensure prices for consumers would not rise. 43% of 1,000 people polled would like to buy more products traced from British farms but the idealistic is not always practical.
Why has it taken so long?
- Cost – Clarke is right when he says that it is unfair to raise consumer prices when households are already being squeezed in every direction. Farmers produce chicken in the UK at a density of 39kg/m2 whereas European farmers often produce at 42kg/m2. While this may not seem like such a big difference it can be the decider between profit and loss. The cost of chicken feed, especially in relation to the controversial GM feed, is also rising with inflation and detrimental to farmers.
- Reproduction – there’s a concern that Britain cannot sustain its chicken consumption – the most popular meat in the UK. It’s predicted that there will be 9 billion people to feed by 2050 and with increasing urbanisation, agriculture is seriously under threat.
Why should we do it?
- Health – If cost is a problem, we should simply focus on quality and not quantity. If it means eating a little less meat and instead, more cheaper vegetables to bulk out meals, what’s the problem? This idea is supported by campaigns such as Meat Free Mondays and a tastier cut of meat is far more enjoyable than slabs of grimy chicken.
- Morally better – locally grown chicken is not transported or subject to welfare standards that may be below the UK’s level.
- Environmental – think of all those air-miles, oil for ferries and lorries polluting the air. Think of the billions of pounds of damage foreign lorries do to our roads which don’t pay tax to repair it. By eating better, we’re also combatting climate change and thinking more about future generations.
- Traceable – a simpler supply chain, fewer middle-men and people held responsible. A supply chain that is transparent and safe and fair for all involved. It sounds idealistic doesn’t it? But where do you think butchers, bakers and greengrocers got, (and some still do!) all their products?
Of course, the question that comes to mind is, but how do we know it’s British? Well, there’ve been moves there too. Tesco committed to shorter supply chains that are more traceable and farmers also called for the complex system to be overhauled.
I’m not suggesting that we hark back to traisping up and down the high-street to four different shops for our weekly groceries, though I do suggest you try it because it’s actually quite fun, cheap and certainly an eye-opener when you get home with hardly any plastics, cellophane and lists of ingredients you’ve never heard of. The food is often fresher, more colourful (in the appropiate way that an orange is orange, not a smartie is blue) and the meat, well, a lot of it’s British.
So, would you choose British over global? Or is our meat market permanently established on the international stage?