Fairness (or the lack of it) can seem like an abstract concept, but this year it has turned into a hard reality for many farmers. Rising food prices on shelves aren’t getting back to farmers – and it’s causing many to give up, sell up, or intensify. It’s not just about price, either; short-term contracts, a lack of commitment, and, in some cases, bullying of farmers and suppliers have created a crisis for our future food security. Meanwhile, in the big picture, climate change and fragile geopolitics are obvious warnings that now, more than ever, we should be nurturing our UK food producers and farmers. So what can be done about it?
You might think a recent letter, signed by hundreds of MPs, asking supermarkets to help online shoppers identify and ‘Buy British’ could offer the answer. After all, so many of us want to buy British food – to support farmers, reduce food miles, and seek high quality and animal welfare standards. But as farmers pointed out, the letter’s proposal is so far from the solution needed that it felt like an extra kick in the teeth. It isn’t difficulty finding British food that’s harming farmers; it’s this government’s enthusiasm for new overseas trade deals, a slow (though moving in the right direction) approach to new agricultural subsidies and a lack of joined up thinking around food security, the environment and health. Combined with the supermarkets’ crippling focus on low prices and short-term deals, it has become all but impossible for farmers to do their jobs. This is the case in eggs, dairy, salad and most other sectors of farming today. At Wicked Leeks, we have been covering these stories all year, and pressure is finally building for genuine change.
Fairness, of course, affects much more than farming. What does ‘fair’ mean to those who pick our food? To those who sell it? Or to us all, eating it? It’s an intriguing question, and one we explore in the new issue of the print magazine, which is available to order now or read online. It also celebrates five years of the Wicked Leeks, and we’re delighted to publish our favourite reader nominations for their food and farming heroes, along with a special birthday cake recipe. It’s a reminder that, no matter the difficulties, there is a thriving community of people out there who are passionate about creating and supporting a fairer food system. Supermarkets and the government would do well to take heed.