MULTINATIONAL FOOD PROCESSOR OUSTS FARMERS’ MARKETING GROUP
– Ultimatum to farmers –
A major farmers’ livestock marketing group, Graig Producers, has been forced to suspend trading with prominent meat processor, Vion, following an ultimatum from the company to the farmers that they must be paid directly by Vion, bypassing their marketing group. Objections have been raised by the farmers about the particular kind of additional information that they are now expected to hand over to Vion.
The concern is that by side-lining the farmers’ group in the payment process, Vion, armed with the information they gather directly from the farmer, might choose to select predominantly large farms. This could result in the smaller traditional family farms having to find their market through inferior contracts or live markets.
“Vion’s action threatens to rip the heart out of our relationship with our members.” says Bob Kennard, managing director of Graig Producers. “We believe it also represents a major shift in the balance of power between beef and lamb producers and the processor, as the move affects all farmers’ groups, not just ourselves. The widespread support we have had on this issue reflects concern that it could result in more large-scale beef and sheep farms and the demise of smaller family farms. This has already happened in the dairy sector, where the number of dairy farmers has halved in the last 10 years. We have very few options for marketing our members’ organic livestock, and this action restricts us further.”
Graig Producers has strong support from its farmer members together with a diverse range of organisations and individuals, all with an interest in a vibrant rural community, and who strongly oppose Vion’s action. These include Professor Tim Lang, of the Centre for Food Policy at City University London who commented “This case highlights continuing tensions in the UK food system to which Governments – shame on them – turn a blind eye. The ruthless power relations are driven down from retailers via processors to farmers. When farmers get better organised, with co-ops, look what happens!”
Well established Group
Graig Producers is an independent livestock marketing group that has been operating for over 17 years supplying organic beef and lamb to the major supermarkets via their designated abattoirs. The Group has several hundred members – from small family farms to large estates – for whom it secures economies of scale through collaboration, helping to optimise income, minimise costs, and improve management.
“Vion are now demanding that farmers sign a new form of individual contract with them before they will be paid for their livestock” continues Bob Kennard. “We believe this reflects their increasing control of the supply chain. We are concerned that this may ultimately result in the amalgamation of family farms. But we have shown that economies can be achieved through farmer collaboration, rather than amalgamation. Why risk the collapse of family farms and the consequent devastating impact on the wider rural community, when there is another way?”
Andrew George MP, West Cornwall and the Scillies Constituency of St Ives and Chair of the Grocery Market Action Group which has led the campaign for a supermarket and grocery supply regulator, says: “We should be encouraging joint initiatives and cooperation between farmers. As the Government prepares to introduce measures to improve fair dealing in the supermarket supply chain it’s important to make sure that practices which could undermine the viability of small livestock farmers are resisted.”
A poll of Graig Producers’ members returned 98% with the view that they did not want to be paid direct by the abattoir. One member commented “This is our chosen route to market, we have a contract with Graig.” Another said “(some supermarkets) would start controlling how we produce our goods and the small producer would be forced out as has happened to the milk industry”; “Graig provides advice regarding the correct route to market, hopefully then acting on my behalf to achieve the best possible prices long term”.
According to Graig Producers and its supporters these views confirm how vital a trustworthy and reliable route to market is for organic producers. “Organisations like Graig Producers are an essential part of the marketing chain,” said Rt Revd Stephen Platten, Bishop of Wakefield. “Not only do they promote collaborative marketing and give a large group of producers a coherent voice but they serve to promote diversity of production from farms of a wide range of sizes.”
In contrast, earlier this lamb marketing season Graig Producers secured a landmark agreement with major meat processor, Dunbia, on guaranteed fair prices for organic lamb, with the aim of ensuring a year-round supply and removing the need for imports.
The public are invited to join others in urging Vion to reverse its decision, by signing an on-line petition at www.ethicalFood4Me.org
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