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WHY DO WE VALUE OUR FOOD SO LITTLE?


11:00 - 30 July 2004

In the first of a series of impassioned personal articles, Cornish farmer Mike Hart, who runs the Small and Family Farms Alliance, argues that despite all the debate about the crisis in the dairy industry, politicians of all persuasions seem to forget that milk is a food

We need food every day, or we die. That's why agriculture and the people in it are so important. Agriculture is the only essential industry. This may come as a shock to those who think food comes from supermarkets. It doesn't. It comes from farms produced by farmers upon whose skill we rely to live. That's why we have to do something about the situation farmers find themselves in, not just here but worldwide - because without farmers we'll have no food.

These simple facts are never mentioned by Margaret Beckett, Andrew George or Tim Yeo.

As a farmer and campaigner on farming issues I know we have a global farming crisis, not just a UK one. One of the main reasons is because we're forgetting how important food is. It's never mentioned by those offering their advice that food is the product of agriculture and is important to us. It seems they think of food as just a product rather than a necessity. I find Margaret Beckett's thinking so crazy as to be almost unbelievable.

Mrs Beckett and the Government say farmers and farming contribute less than 1 per cent of GDP, so it doesn't matter. It's said farmers have to become more efficient or bigger or both or get out and that market-driven production under common agricultural policy reforms will help. We're told farmers have to be competitive in world markets and consumers will benefit from food at lower prices.

We're told over-supply is the problem: farmers must diversify or earn off-farm income and not rely on food production as their only source of income. We're told that if we have a number of quangos, or if we write a report or two that will somehow solve the problem.

We're told farmers must work together in order to achieve more efficiency. But none of this will solve the single most important problem facing farming worldwide: low farm gate prices. Why do we value the food we need to survive so little?

Tomorrow: Bigger doesn't mean better