The number of dairy farms is declining daily, and this latest body blow will put more out of business. The industry has been struggling for years, and those who remain are barely making a living unless they scale up their business to factory proportions, which does not go down well with the neighbours or the environment agency. Alternatively they must diversify their farm business in order to subsidise the basic farming income.
‘Food crime’ is the latest difficulty facing British food producers. A recent report points the finger at supermarket food price wars, lax controls and council service cuts, which have opened up a whole new area for criminal gangs who are switching from dealing in drugs to food.
Michael Ellis, Interpol’s assistant director, reports that “they have realised they can make the same amount of money by dealing in counterfeit food”. Food crimes have killed consumers from China to the Czech Republic, and cause an unknown proportion of the million cases of food poisoning reported in Britain each year.
As reported in the Daily Telegraph, surveys in Leicestershire and West Yorkshire last year, found that nearly half of meat samples taken had been contaminated, while investigations of kebabs in West Sussex, and curries in North Yorkshire revealed that 80 per cent contained the wrong meat.
The Food Standard Agency has long been viewed as inadequate. They were shown up miserably during the horse meat scandal, when it took both the Dutch and Irish to first raise their concern. Ministers are now promising a special food crime unit but it is debatable as to whether enough funds will be made available to make it effective.
British farmers produce some of the best products in the world, Britain has always had a good reputation regarding food production and quality. Increasingly retailers who are constantly trying to unrealistically push down the price of food are creating a price war which criminal gangs eagerly join.
When many dairy farmers are already struggling, the last thing they need is misleading reports about the quality of British milk. So it is not surprising that Dr Sohere Roked has infuriated farmers for urging the public, in an article in the Daily Mail last week, to reduce their milk consumption.
Dr Roked falsely claimed that UK cows are injected with hormones to keep them milking all year round. This practise is in fact banned across Europe. She also said there was “pus in milk”, but did not explain that this is somatic white cells, which is natural and essential to tackling infection and good health.
As Jane King the editor of the Farmers Weekly said, ‘Misrepresentation of the facts and ignorance about dairy farming practices may pose a bigger risk to the future than prices, especially if it affects long-term sales and stunts the market’.
Fortunately the British public are becoming increasingly discerning and particular about where their food is sourced. Following the ‘horse meat scandal’ last year, they have increasingly supported local farm shops and independent retailers and butchers. But lately this trend is declining, it appears people have short memories. Perhaps these latest reports will be a wake-up call.
For those who have yet to visit the new Farm Shop and Tea Room at Wayfield Park Farm, Pycombe, just off the A23, there is a treat in store. This new enterprise on this established beef farm which nestles in the Downs on the edge of Brighton, and rears pure Sussex cattle, has been eagerly awaited by the village, the local community and further afield.
The Farm Shop and Tea Room has only been open a couple of weeks but there is already a steady flow of regulars dropping in to buy deliciously fresh produce including, seasonal fruit and vegetables, meat, milk, cream, yogurt and freshly baked bread. There is also a tempting range of apple juice, preserves, and tasty offerings from the delicatessen.
Before continuing ones journey it is almost essential to stay and sample the excellent coffee, or be more adventurous and enjoy a light lunch or afternoon tea in these pleasant and spacious surroundings.
There are paintings by local artist on the walls, the daily newspapers thoughtfully provided for customers to read, and family members are on hand to offer a warm and friendly welcome. This is the perfect diversification for this type of small family farm, its location is ideal, and it provides a service and product which is increasingly sought. The closer we can buy our food to the point of production the better, and we can be certain that all the produce available at farm shops will have been carefully selected and sourced. There are no ‘middle men’, and there is certainly no opportunity for ‘food criminals’ when it comes to local family run farm shops.
Carola Godman Irvine