June 2001

[Week 26 · June 25th - July 1st, 2001]

Higher Bread Prices?

On Tuesday the Daily Express suggested that bread supplier Hovis would be raising prices significantly [by 20%], though a Hovis spokesman said this has nothing to do with the expected bad wheat harvest - rather a realignment of prices which are regularly discounted by major supermarkets for promotional purposes.

Some have suggested that wheat yields this year could be down by as much as 25% thanks to last year's bad autumnal weather and in the following the winter, and also the possibility of lower quality yields - which will force up the price of good quality grain. The rough cost of the wheat in an average loaf of bread is about six pence, while the farmgate price of wheat [around 80/tonne] is at it lowest for five years. And in Friday's edition of the Financial Times [June 29th] there was a report that the global price of wheat in the next couple of years could rise by up to 35%.

The National Trust has proposed that farmers producing food in an environmentally friendly way - but not necessarily to the top organic standards - should carry a 'Green Mark' and be able to command higher prices for this. This suggestion comes in the Trust's new repost called 'Farming Forward'. One other idea put forward is that school children and their families should be able to participate in a free farm visit voucher scheme backed by the government and industry.

There was news at the beginning of the week that the downturn in agriculture and farming have impacted on the sales and circulation of Farming News, which will consequently close in August.

[Week 25 · June 18th - 24th, 2001]

Ban Child Labour

The Daily Telegraph reported early in the week that the TGWU [Transport and General Workers Union] has called for an end to what it claims to be 'child labour' on farms; keeping children away from dangerous working areas and raising the age at which a child is allowed to drive a tractor [currently 13 years].

Meanwhile... Scotland's FMD livestock restrictions have been eased but still under licence. The Countryside Alliance is up in arms again - after anti-fox-hunting legislation was promised in the Queen's speech - with the organisation keeping its options open on reviving the Countryside March which would have taken place earlier in the year had not FMD appeared.

  [Week 24 · June 11th - 17th, 2001]

MAFF is Axed

MAFF, which for a long time had been under siege from its detractors, has been incorporated into a new government body called DEFRA [Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs] headed by Margaret Beckett. She is joined by Environment minister Michael Meacher, Rural Affairs minister Alun Michael, and junior ministers Elliot Morley and Lord Whitty. Beckett has indicated that the farming community will not dominate her agenda for rural Britain.

A survey by RASE [Royal Agricultural Society of England] and Deloitte & Touche, the accounting firm, shows that a lot of farmers are working seventy hours a week at an average income of about 4.70/hr; a figure hardly above the national minimum wage.

[Week 23 · June 4th - 10th, 2001]

Toxic Chickens ?

A report by the organic farming champion The Soil Association claims that battery chickens and eggs contain unacceptable levels of drug residues, a claim that has been refuted by MAFF which claims that residue levels are lower and were well below the safety limits suggested by the World Health Organisation.

The Settle FMD outbreak continues to worsen with the ban on livestock movement extended into other nearby areas.

There have also been unsettling reports that government statistics may have excluded tens of thousands of younger livestock, while struggling rural businesses in Cumbrian and Devon - which are supposed to be receiving government assistance - have yet to receive anything.

Meanwhile, a survey by MAFF of sales of fresh fruit and veggies during the first quarter of this year were down. So too were sales of lamb, pork and beef. Yet sales of various processed foods, along with chicken and fish, were up.

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