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Salty food, public health and the farming industry

 

Few will realize the significance of the press release below about the NFU’s latest marketing campaign....so a small rant on why it’s so hideous.

 

Firstly farming...

After two and a half years and £500 million pounds, Sir Donald Curry hasn't spent any of his Sustainable Food and Farming budget (taxpayers money to help the farming industry post foot and mouth) on reconnecting farmers and consumers with how their food is produced or where it has come from. (ie. farmer led marketing activity to the consumer). Until now. The NFU has just announced its proposed campaign to promote the Red Tractor (see below).

 

However, the major supermarkets and food processing multinationals don’t want the public to ‘reconnect’ with ‘where their food comes from or how it is produced’. If we did that, then the consumer might not want to buy Tesco ready made meals with chicken from Thailand in it. All flavoured with a few spoonfuls of salt.

 

So any major marketing initiatives to help farmers and smaller food producers (ie. people at the bottom of the food chain and not the supermarkets/major food multinationals) have been starved from Government funding.

 

Food Links groups, Farmers Markets and even British Food Fortnight are all underfunded. The National Association of Farmers Markets (NAFM) went under last year due to lack of funding. Our own efforts to produce a customer magazine to promote local, regional or speciality farm produce to the consumer met with spectacular failure. Sir Donald Curry wouldn't give us a bean despite several presentations to him which weren't that bad. Tesco used to like the work I did for them (and it worked a treat) so I assume they can't have been that bad.

 

Meanwhile, the marketing budgets of UK farmers are handled by the levy bodies (MDC, HGCA, MLC) and are blocked by DEFRA under spurious State Aid Rules. As a result, British farmers are not allowed to promote their own produce to the consumer in their home state ie. Britain. However, the French farmers don’t suffer from the same problem.

 

As we speak, there’s a poster campaign promoting three different varieties of French apples in the French supermarket chain Super U. It’s funded by EU money and supported by the French government. We’d never get that passed the men in grey suits at the DEFRA State Aid Rules section. They could just be marketing ignorant. But they’ve told me that they are also working with the supermarkets. So their amazing incompetence becomes less convincing.

 

The supermarkets would rather have a free rein to source apples from anywhere in the world and keep farm-gate prices down. Low food inflation for Tony and high supermarket profits for Tesco, Wal-Mart and Sainsbury’s. Everyone’s happy.

 

Anyone who’s proposed national marketing projects that the supermarkets don’t like to DEFRA doesn’t get anywhere. Farmers Markets, local food initiatives and consumer marketing activity would all be helping to promote our ‘local food system’ that the major supermarkets are helping to destroy. We are all working with people at the bottom of the supply chain (farmers and primary producers) and not the top. So no real money from DEFRA. It’s all very clever.

 

The consumer…

As a result, there has been no effective national marketing activity to help educate the 59 million UK consumers about the benefits of eating local, fresh, quality food (ie. healthy eating) in the past ten years rather than stuffing their faces with highly-processed ready made Tesco, Wal-Mart and Sainsbury's meals from Lord Haskin’s kitchen factory and fast food outlets. Hence the problems we are now facing.

 

As people eat more processed food (stuff from the top of the food industry supply chain), they are getting fatter and less healthy. The Department of Health is now worried that it won’t meet its public health targets.

 

The food processors, such as Lord Haskins’ Northern Foods factory, like to source ingredients from the global commodity market. They fly products halfway around the world to be processed and made into supermarket own label ready made meals. The only sustainable part of this policy seems to be in helping to prop up the beleaguered airline industry.

 

Public money…

Today we heard that there's going to be a new £4 million campaign produced by the Food Standards Agency to help educate consumers about the dangers of eating too much salt. So why couldn't we get £300k from DEFRA to produce a magazine to promote local, fresh quality farm produce (ie. apples, fruit and vegetables) to the consumer. We clearly stated that this would help to improve public health. I guess we went to the wrong Government department. The food processors, supermarkets and MacDonalds haven’t quite got that far yet.

 

Which leads us from one Big Mac to another.

 

The latest campaign…

The NFU run by Richard Macdonald is launching their Red Tractor logo campaign. Sir Donald Curry, the man who is supposed to be 'independent' is backing the campaign. He says it will help the industry reconnect with the consumer. The Red Tractor has managed to secure Government funding.

 

The creative idea is mortifyingly embarrassing, and the campaign is massively under funded, but again these aren’t the real problems. It’s the fact that the Red Tractor with the words ‘British Farm Standard’ emblazoned across it, can go on imported food that’s the real problem. NFU is following supermarket strategy. Sir Donald Curry is following supermarket strategy. The Red Tractor is a fudge. It can go on imported produce and keep the supermarkets happy.

 

 

If the Government/DEFRA would simply allow farmers to market their own produce to consumers (fruit, vegetables, potatoes, meat and milk) by unblocking State Aid Rules, we might find that the public started eating more healthy foods. We might even become educated about the quality of our food like the French. Over £100 million of farmers’ money per annum is blocked by State Aid red tape. So there wouldn’t be any need for extra public money to be spent as we could use existing budgets.

 

Through the marketing of local quality food, farmers would be helping to create a totally different food marketplace, one where consumers valued where their food has come from and how it has been produced. We might even get some clear country of origin food labeling in place, traditional breeds of meat and increased diversity of produce. But the supermarkets and food processors might not like that.

 

As noted by the British Retail Consortium, the supermarket spin machine, “a relatively long period of time will be needed to bring about the cultural shift in the attitude of many consumers to salt intake”, if they can help it.

 

 

NFU AND MASSEY FERGUSON TEAM UP TO HARVEST FARMERS’ PROMISES

 

The NFU has joined forces with Massey Ferguson to launch the first stage of a new campaign to reaffirm the status of the Little Red Tractor logo.

 

The Promise Campaign, sponsored by Massey Ferguson, sets out to make a direct link between farmers and the food they produce and aims ultimately to raise the image of British farming in the eyes of the consumer. The concept behind the campaign is the brainchild of Andrew Jolliffe Advertising.

 

In the first stage, launched today, Assured Food Standards (AFS) farmers will be asked to pledge personal guarantees about the quality of their farming practices. The farmer with the most persuasive promise, as judged by a high profile panel including NFU President Tim Bennett and Sir Don Curry, will win a brand new Massey Ferguson tractor worth £29K. The pledges collected will be used directly in promotional material in a national public-facing campaign to reinvigorate the Little Red Tractor symbol to be launched in October.

 

NFU president, Tim Bennett, said: “This is the first stage of a very exciting campaign to reaffirm the status of the Little Red Tractor mark. We’re responding directly to the recommendations of Sir Don Curry here – we want to reconnect the farmer with the customer and unite the food chain.

 

“We need farmers’ help to do it. That’s why we’ve teamed up with Massey Ferguson. With the chance to win a brand new MF5445 Classic we’re urging farmers to get their thinking caps on.

 

“The whole emphasis of this campaign is to increase confidence in food produced to Little Red Tractor standards. We’re using personal assurances from real Red Tractor Farmers and we will ultimately deliver the campaign with the line: ‘Red Tractor Farmers deliver produce with a promise’.”

 

David Sleath, UK sales director for Massey Ferguson, said: “We have a long standing relationship with the NFU and are delighted to put our big red tractor behind this important stage in the Little Red Tractor’s journey. Producing food to Assured standards requires the same dedicated commitment as we foster at Massey Ferguson. We share a common goal to promote these world class standards throughout the industry so this is the perfect partnership for us. We look forward to supporting the Little Red Tractor throughout its exciting journey.”

 

This is not the first time Massey Ferguson and sister company Agricredit have supported an NFU campaign and both have supported Little Red Tractor initiatives from the launch in 2000.

 

Assured farmers will be receiving their Promise Packs through the post now. Included in the pack will be a letter from Tim Bennett and an entry form. To enter the competition and have the chance to win a Massey Ferguson tractor farmers should simply write their promises on the entry form and post it back to The Little Red Tractor Promise Campaign, NFU, Agriculture House, Shaftsbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8HL. The closing date for entries is October 1, 2004. If eligible farmers have not received a pack but wish to enter the competition call the campaign hotline on 020 7331 7364.

 

 

Supermarkets defy ministers over safer food

By Colin Brown and Tim Walker

Source: The Independent

13 September 2004

 

 

Britain's giant supermarket chains are in open conflict with the Government over unhealthy levels of salt in the food they sell.

 

Sainsbury's and other shops have angered ministers by flatly refusing a direct request to improve their plans to cut back on salt, which is implicated in health problems.

 

The Government launches a national campaign this morning to persuade consumers to lower the salt intake in their diet, as its contribution to high blood pressure is thought to lead to 70,000 heart attacks and strokes each year. "Too much salt is bad for your heart," the campaign advertisements will warn.

 

But a demand from the Public Health minister, Melanie Johnson, for food retailers to update their salt reduction plans by the end of the week has been met with a resounding raspberry.

 

Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Asda and Iceland have all ignored the request and are continuing to work on the less rigorous salt reduction strategies they formed at the start of this year. Tesco, the UK's largest food retailer, said it had not received Ms Johnson's 16 June letter containing the call and, as a result, would not respond to it.

 

"Melanie Johnson has asked us to submit a revised action plan, but we are not going to do that," said Erica Zimmer, a spokeswoman for Sainsbury's.

 

"We are not going to meet that deadline because we believe our action plan is fine. We agreed it with the Food Standards Agency. We are making good progress to achieving the target we set ourselves."

 

Nutritionists have long warned high levels of salt are linked to high blood pressure, which substantially increases the risk of heart disease and strokes. The average adult effortlessly exceeds the recommended daily intake of 6g of salt, by consuming 9.5g. The average school lunch box contains up to half the daily recommended intake, and certain pizzas contain almost three-quarters of an adult's daily allowance. Studies have shown that reducing levels of salt in the diet can lower blood pressure within four weeks.

 

Ministerial vexation with the hugely profitable retailing giants ­ Sainsbury's made over £600m last year ­ is growing. "Their refusal to meet the deadline [for a new plan] is silly, and we are extremely disappointed," said a source close to John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health. "These issues are of crucial concern to their customers."

 

The supermarkets' failure to move has been even more fiercely criticised by Professor Graham MacGregor, the head of the blood pressure unit at St George's hospital in London and chairman of the anti-salt pressure group Cash (Consensus Action on Salt and Health).

 

"The response from the food industry so far, quite frankly, has been pathetic," he said. "For every 10 per cent reduction we would save 7,000 deaths a year. You could make a 15 per cent reduction in all of these foods tomorrow and there would be no taste or safety problems, no technological problems."

 

Behind the row lies growing tension as the Government wants to make faster progress in meeting public health targets to be set out in a forthcoming White Paper. "[Retailers] are locked into a taste battle with each other and want more time to get people weaned off salt," a ministerial source said.

 

Health ministers believe consumers will be defeated in their efforts unless the stores and food suppliers themselves do more to cut down on the salt in a wide range of products, from soups and pizzas to cornflakes.

 

Ms Johnson upset retailers in June when she told them their salt reduction plans were too vague, and ordered them to submit revised plans by 18 September. She wrote: "So much more concerted action is needed if we are to meet our aim to reduce the population average intake [of salt] to six grams a day ... From the plans already submitted, about 50 per cent of the products such as pizzas, sandwiches and ready meals will continue to contain unacceptably high levels of salt. I would like to see across-the-board reductions."

 

The British Retail Consortium's director general, Dr Kevin Hawkins, wrote in a reply to Ms Johnson's letter that "a relatively long period of time will be needed to bring about the cultural shift in the attitude of many consumers to salt intake".

 

A Cash group study revealed last week that own-label supermarket products were among the saltiest foods.