Dawn broke on Victoria Gardens, outside the Houses of Parliament, to reveal 49 scarecrows. They stood stark, silent, and anonymous, like the 49 per cent of farmers who fear they will be driven out of business this year, largely by supermarket buying practices. The Riverford co-owners who have led our #GetFairAboutFarming campaign were joined by farmers, politicians, customers, and a large media presence. Huge thanks to the 112,000 of you who signed the petition, forcing a debate – and to those who wrote to your MPs, encouraging them to show up.
Cycling up the Thames, as Big Ben emerged in the rising sun, I felt an unexpected excitement and privilege at living and participating in a modern democracy, however flawed it may be. As Churchill pragmatically said, “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried.”
While it was great to hear unanimous and cross-party support for all aspects of our petition in the ensuing debate, there is still some way to go to achieve real fairness for farmers. The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries’ final comments agreed with the petition’s aims, but suggested that our government had it covered with their existing plans – offering little reassurance to an industry in crisis.
We hope that with the groundswell of support behind the campaign, we can continue to shine a light on the bullying behaviours of supermarkets, and push for a return of honesty and decency to our supply chains. There was never going to be a quick solution to an issue this complicated, involving such powerful corporations – but it felt like our message was heard loud and clear, and we’ll be making sure it stays that way. Exhausting as it has been, we are far from done.
Our increasingly dysfunctional food and farming system is shaped by an unregulated market – and those with the power to regulate it continue to abdicate that responsibility, in the blinkered conviction that the market can solve any problem, however complex. Money is the only metric they accept, never mind the costs to our environment, wildlife, health, and wider society.
I am convinced that this is not what most of us want, and I will fight for something better to my dying day, even while I would rather have my head in a hedge. Thank you again to all who have supported us in this, particularly those who showed up at Westminster.