As protests continue, don’t Irish farmers deserve “fair trade” too?

You’d best get the weekly shop done today if you want fresh stuff in for the rest of the week, because SuperValu might not have their normal range of fresh food tomorrow:

Say what you like about the IFA, but it doesn’t mess around, even if it’s acting largely alone (more on that below): After months of blockading the beef factories, they’ve turned their attention to the real villains of the piece, the supermarkets. Last week it was Tesco and Aldi and Lidl. This week, SuperValu and Centra:

“Beef farmers should not accept the current beef price on offer from factories and “demand a lot more”, IFA President Joe Healy said.

He said the latest Bord Bia Beef Price Index (for 1 December) shows that the gap between Irish prices and our main export markets has widened again and now stands at 21c/kg, up from 20c/kg the previous week.

This gap has increased from 5c/kg in mid-October to 21c/kg last week, highlighting the improvement in beef market prices to the factories, Healy said in a statement. 

“The facts are the factories held back on these market price improvements to farmers over the last five to six weeks and the Bord Bia Price Index proves this,” he said.”…..

…..Healy said farmers are also angry that SuperValu were promoting a ‘save 33%’ offer on Irish beef at the weekend. “This unsustainable discounting ends up being paid for by farmers,” he said.”

The part in bold is the heart of the matter, really. Competition drives lower prices, and the Irish supermarket chains are in constant competition with each other. And that’s all fine when they’re competing using their own resources, but the problem here is that they’re essentially forcing farmers to make a loss so you and I can have 33% off our round steak mince.

Of course, the flip side to this is that if farmers are to make more money, then the rest of us will have to pay more for our food. Which, according to several studies, we don’t really mind doing, if those farmers are poor coffee plantationists in the third world:

“Products labeled with a Fair-Trade logo cause prospective buyers to dig deeper into their pockets. Participants were willing to pay on average 30 percent more for ethically produced goods, compared to their conventionally produced counterparts. The neuroscientists analyzed the neural pathways involved in processing products with a Fair-Trade emblem. They identified a potential mechanism that explains why Fair-Trade products are evaluated more positively. For instance, activity in the brain’s reward center increases and thereby alters willingness to pay computations.”

It is rather amazing that the western public is generally content to pay more for the ethical buzz of knowing that an Indian farmer is getting a fair price for his produce, but for whatever reason, Supermarkets don’t seem to think that the Irish consumer would pay more to know that the Irish producer is getting a fair price. These people do more public research than nearly anyone else out there, so they must have some insight into why.

Nonetheless, perhaps it’s time for the farmers to start demanding “fair trade Irish beef”. If a market can be exploitative in the far east or south America, it can certainly be exploitative here.

In general, in fact, the silence of the political left in relation to the farmers’ complaints is something to behold. In very few other circumstances would they regard a 20% fall in income over two years as simply a function of the market. If Nurses or Teachers were facing a 20% pay cut, they would be on the streets with the support of nearly every major trades union and opposition party, whereas the farmers, who have actually experienced such a cut, seem to be treated as a nuisance, despite being the source of most of the food that we eat.

It might be unpopular to say so, but the farmers are absolutely right to be on the streets and raising awareness of this issue. When you buy your food in a big supermarket chain, as most of us do, you’re taking advantage of very low prices that have often been facilitated by the arm-twisting of producers, whose incomes are squeezed until the pips squeak in order to get you in the doors of Tesco instead of Dunnes, or vice versa. At the same time, plenty of us run head first to the free-range eggs stand to buy the more expensive eggs because we want to feel good about the lives of the chickens. This says something very good about us as consumers, whether the free-range eggs are actually cost-effective for the farmer or not.

So why don’t we demand the same ethical treatment for the people producing our food? We should.


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