Jeremy Clarkson has “finally said the unsayable”, says John Lewis-Stempel in UnHerd – that food is just “far too cheap”. He’s dead right. Cereal farmers receive a paltry 0.09 pence profit on each loaf of bread sold. And they’re the lucky ones: for much of 2022, pig farmers lost £60 for every animal they reared; by Christmas, egg producers were losing almost 30p per dozen they sold. The average British farm made just £5,600 profit last year, despite workers putting in 65-hour weeks. Little surprise, then, that farmers are “flocking out of the industry”. The number of British dairy farms fell from 11,900 to 7,880 between 2020 and 2022. In 1950, there were 196,000.
The villain in all this is, of course, the supermarkets. Because they control so much of the market – Tesco alone accounts for nearly 30% of pork sales in Britain – they’re able to squeeze farmers dry. They cancel orders with no notice; reject fruit and veg for looking funny; insist the produce is packaged by their preferred supplier, “at twice the cost of the same service on the open market”. Big farms can cope with all this, but for smaller operations it’s becoming impossible. And these family-run farms are more than just food producers; they are “part of their community in a way that mega agri-industrial enterprises are not, and never will be”. Something has to change. We cannot expect farmers to continue, in Clarkson’s words, “working seven days a week with their arm up a cow’s bottom for nothing”.