Realist, not conformist analysis of the latest financial, business and political news

This Is Not The Free Trade, Farmers And Food, Argument At All

The farmers have been ripping off the workers for far too long.

There are indeed certain questions that require answers in this world. How much, for example, should some Welsh sheep farmer, shivering in the rain in Snowdonia, be allowed to increase the food prices for 65 million people in order that he gains a living?

One obvious answer is nowt (or even Llareggub) and that’s the end to that. Another is that no one at all should ever be allowed to import any food whatsoever in order that the owner of any scrap of land, however marginal, should continue to have a decent income.

This question of how the rest of us must be restricted, impoverished, in order to feed farmers does have to be answered. On the grounds that the question has been raised, there is a structure in place to do something about it and we’re considering how to change that structure. My own answer is go the full New Zealand. Sod ’em. Me’dos. The purpose of all production is consumption and that’s that. If domestic production doesn’t cut it without subsidy then so what?

OK, but answering such questions does require that the question be properly posed. That we don’t start out with a framing that deliberately tips the answer in one direction or another:

The core of the argument is whether Britain should be doing trade deals with the likes of Australia, Canada and the United States if it means we have to allow in food from countries with lower standards than ours. Liz Truss, the trade secretary, believes we should; George Eustice, the secretary of state for farming and the environment, backed by the National Farmers’ Union and a bunch of green groups, believes we should not. The prime minister is said to take Truss’s side.

No, that’s not right. That’s the way it is being framed and that framing automatically biases potential answers to the farmers and restriction side. Which is why, of course, it is being framed in that manner.

The core of the argument is how much can the farmers righteously demand from the rest of us? This comes in two parts. There’s that idea – a good and true one – that we do indeed owe all of our fellows a living. We’re not going to insist that a fellow citizen has entirely zero income. They will, at the very least, gain the same dole and gruel available to the rest of us. The second is that that countryside out there has been managed for a couple of millennia, it looks like it does because it has been and is farmed, how much are we willing to pay to keep it that way?

Good and honest questions. My answers are the dole for you sgulreggub and the countryside will be the result of whatever replaces farming. Cool, looc. I might be in a minority of one on that point, or those points.

The production via lower standards is an excuse to obscure this question. These questions. It is not the question itself, it’s a biased approach to swing the answer.

Here is the actual question. “How much of our money should farmers have?”

Everything else is propaganda.

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Thomas Knapp
27 days ago

Over here in the US at least, it’s always framed as the farmers being the true nobility, the salt of the earth and benefactors of mankind who, because their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers made a living as farmers, are entitled to whatever direct or indirect subsidies may be required for them to make a living as farmers too.

Of course the small independent farmer is more and more a myth here, too. Large corporate farms are the main recipients of those subsidies. But they keep the myth around to justify it.

Bernie G.
Bernie G.
26 days ago
Reply to  Thomas Knapp

The French are a little romantic about their farmers too. The extent to which the Brits buy into the story depends in large part to how much disposable income each individual has. I’m fortunate and can afford to indulge my farming neighbours, but it seems a tad unfair to deny the rank and file their Friday steak and chips by pricing such beyond their means. Much of the budget beef England consumes probably comes from the Irish Republic anyway – seems a shame to deny NZ or other friends a share of the action.

Barks
Barks
26 days ago
Reply to  Thomas Knapp

Sort of. The US farmers grow corn for the ethanol subsidies, sugar and milk for the sugar and milk price supports, etc. It seems most vegetables and fruits are imported from Latin America. Grass fed cattle take some raising, probably.

Spike
Spike
26 days ago
Reply to  Barks

But none of these government programs are because we need the product—It no longer makes any sense to dilute our gasoline with ethanol—but because politicians like it when farmers are on welfare.

Boganboy
Boganboy
26 days ago
Reply to  Spike

I understand Biden’s cutting back on fracking and stopping pipelines from Canada. And grovelling to the terroristocrats in the Middle East.

So you might need that ethanol yet.

bloke in spain
bloke in spain
26 days ago

Since I haven’t shopped in the UK for some years I thought I’d go to Tesco’s website & see how much you Brits are paying for your Friday night steak & chips. Bloody heck! Rump steak. 50% more than I am. Maybe I’d have to make do with hamburger. Jeez! Minced beef nearly 100% more. Sounds like somebody there’s taking the piss.

john77
john77
26 days ago
Reply to  bloke in spain

@ bis Tesco is awful value for money on up-market products unless you buy them on sell-buy date after the second reduction. And not always then: last week I went to my local Tesco to buy something and spotted a “Finest” sirloin steak at one-quarter of the pre-reduction price, so I gave it a try – it was nothing like as good as the ones from my local butcher which cost less than Tesco’s “Finest” at nominal price. Tesco was created to “pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap” not to sell rump steak. High quality local butcher Rump Steak… Read more »

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
25 days ago
Reply to  john77

Spanish steak may be cheaper but it’s not very good (lamb OTOH is excellent). I’d never opt for steak in any Spanish eatery. the only exception was a place in Madrid near Las Ventas (the bullring) which served ox and was bloody delicious. I can’t remember the name, but I doubt it’s still there (this was over 30 years ago).

bloke in spain
bloke in spain
22 days ago
Reply to  john77

Is steak up-market? Good grief!
According to the label on the cut (I don’t buy “steaks”. I buy the entire cut. 3 or 4 kilos, lightly roast & slice) the meat was Irish. All got scoffed. No one complained & I”m feeding highly carnivorous S. Americans. Since I made the post I bought a load of chicken leg quarters. €2,30/kilo. Just under 2 quid. And not your UK, stuffed with water, chicken either. This tastes of chicken.
The supermarket here’s probably the market equivalent of Tesco.

john77
john77
21 days ago
Reply to  bloke in spain

@bis Tesco “Finest” is *supposed to be* up-market. Tesco own-brand is mid-market (by Tesco standards) and they have an even cheaper range “Eastman Foods” “exclusive to Tesco”. Steak itself is upmarket of other common meats in the UK – downmarket is sausages, mince, scrag end, pork belly, faggots, battery chicken, with joints of beef and lamb ranking above pork and chicken in the middle range: when I treat myself to a steak it’s roughly twice the price of a pork chop. What I continualy find shocking is that, thanks to CFP including Spanish trawlers fishing in the North Sea, the… Read more »

jgh
jgh
26 days ago

I feel I’ve scored a tiny little victory in that last week I got members of my local party to start considering the farm/import/food issue from the position of consumers. Reminded them of the Corn Laws, and the reality that one farm in the US could typically be twice the size of Norfolk, meaning US efficiencies are impossible in the UK. yay! And managed to eventually ram through that “efficent farming” is the opposite end from “humans raping huge amounts of nature”, and is at the *same* end as “lots of beautiful unspoilt nature”.

Steve
Steve
22 days ago
Reply to  jgh

Genuinely Huzzah! to you; top bloke!

Spike
Spike
26 days ago

No, even Tim’s framing isn’t proper. Farmers aren’t a Victim Class, whom we must stereotype and then collectively decide (on the basis of pity, envy, or PR narrative) how well they should live. They are individual businessmen hoping to have a product to sell. As well as things they can control (personal gumption and acquisition of skills and data), there are things it’s hard to control: Others have larger lands, better soil, more sunlight and rain. Agribusinesses have economies of scale they never will. Conclusions: If he produces a crop that is a good value, he should be free to… Read more »

john77
john77
26 days ago
Reply to  Spike

@ spike
Ah! But that assumes a level playing field, not one where a UK peasant has an inadequate after-tax income because he/she has had to pay taxes to subsidise Eutopean peasants via CAP and, now, payments to Brussels to honour commitments made by the EU pre-Brexit.

Spike
Spike
26 days ago
Reply to  john77

Big government sucks! but the British farmer does have a level playing field, relative to other Brits, who will pay the increased prices for farm products needed to honor those commitments. If the result renders the entire domestic sector uncompetitive, the wise move is to break those commitments, not to break foreign commerce as well! (Achieving wise governance is an exercise left to the reader.)

john77
john77
26 days ago
Reply to  Spike

Spike, you are assuming that the CAP, to which the clown in No 10 is still adhering, creates a level playing field within the UK.
If it did we should not have fields of oilseed rape (which causes allergic reactions in asthmatics) or sugar beet (subsidised by the EU because Horatio Nelson blockaded imports of sugar to France 209+ years ago).

Spike
Spike
26 days ago
Reply to  john77

I have always said you people need to elect a Conservative government someday.

john77
john77
26 days ago
Reply to  Spike

We’ve elected a conservative government many times – just didn’t get one on most of those occasions.

John B
John B
25 days ago
Reply to  john77

which causes allergic reactions in asthmatics)’

Then we need mandatory masks – if they can stop virus they can stop pollen.

TD
TD
25 days ago
Reply to  John B

They do. My allergies have not bothered me this May and I haven’t had an ordinary cold in well over a year. I wouldn’t advocate mandatory masks for that reason, but I have to note that masks seem to have helped me in some ways. I didn’t catch Covid either.

Michael van der Riet
Michael van der Riet
23 days ago
Reply to  john77

But the US has to pay Hamas and Hezbollah as well as help Iran get their nuclear bomb programme going again, which is going to cost many suitcases of dollars.I doubt that there’s any playing field advantage there.

Bongo
Bongo
26 days ago

Please can we use the term ‘farmland owners’ in these discussions.

Chris Thompson
Chris Thompson
23 days ago
Reply to  Bongo

Excellent comment.

HowardP
HowardP
26 days ago

A minority of two, at least! Just two random comments. This romanticisation of the farmer in pursuit of naked self interest reminds me of Arthur Scargill’s romanticism of miners as the pinnacle or worker nobility, and retaining the world’s most disgusting job for generations to come. Bugger the law of comparative advantage.

And why this infantile uber-British conceit about food standards. This bizarre concept that Americans, Australians, Canadians et al, all nations more prosperous, wealthy and generally better educated than the UK, somehow have inferior food standards.

John B
John B
25 days ago
Reply to  HowardP

And where was it that horse meat of unknown origin, of unknown quality, in unknown quantity, for unknown period of time was sold as beef meat? Could it be the UK and rest of EU with its ‘higher’ standards?

Last edited 25 days ago by John B
james morgan
james morgan
26 days ago

I’m with you – if the farmers can’t compete fuck ’em.

John B
John B
25 days ago

‘…  if it means we have to allow in food from countries with lower standards than ours. ‘ She means different standards, ‘lower’ is a subjective claim and never backed by evidence. Those ‘lower’ US chlorine chicken standards turned out to be no ‘lower’ than EU ones. And higher standards – belt and braces – are often not necessary and of no greater benefit. This is why foreign producers not encumbered with the cost of unnecessary standards, can offer lower prices. However the start point should always be ‘standards’ are there to protect the wallets of producers not the wallets of… Read more »

Last edited 25 days ago by John B
Daedalus
Daedalus
23 days ago
Reply to  John B

I think a lot of our “standards” refer to animal welfare. The not unreasonable view that the animal should be as well treated as is reasonably possible during life and should be slaughtered with as little stress as possible. Here we let ourselves down with allowing religious slaughter.

Steve
Steve
22 days ago
Reply to  Daedalus

That is how you know the “claim” is balls.

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