Farmers are no more than collateral damage in supermarkets’ price war

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Still, Lidl’s commitment to cheap silly knitwear and to undercutting the competition helps to underline a serious point about Britain’s new round of supermarket price wars. In the sanitised world of big business where every marketing department is drowning in corporate wokery, there’s an edginess to the contest that makes for fascinating spectator sport.

More importantly, cheaper food can only be good for the consumer, especially when spiralling inflation has already added an estimated £15 to the average monthly groceries bill, and a savage spike in household energy costs is hurtling down the track. For low-income families, Aldi and Lidl are a genuine godsend.

Yet, there’s a dark side that is easy to overlook in the hunt for ever-cheaper fare.

In the same way that the monster in the wardrobe of the fast-fashion industry for a long time was sweatshop labour and throwaway clothes that pile up in waste mountains on the other side of the world, there are knock-on effects to ensuring that what we put on our plates remains affordable which often go unrecognised.

In the food industry those at the sharp-end are suppliers, many of them battle-weary farmers, who are the first to be squeezed whenever a price war erupts at the tills.

British farmers were eking out a living long before the pandemic came along but the upheaval of Covid, and before that, Brexit, has pushed many to the brink of financial ruin, as chronicled in Jeremy Clarkson’s Amazon Prime series.

Industry figures have warned of a food chain crisis from persistent labour shortages in abattoirs that has forced pig farmers to cull healthy stock, a severe lack of seasonal workers that left fruit and vegetables to rot, and a shortage of lorry drivers causing further disruption.

At the same time, energy, feed and fertiliser prices have soared and there are fears that Defra will fail to properly support farmers facing steep cuts to subsidies outside the European Union. With the average farm already operating on wafer-thin margins, is now the time to be turning the screws on them?

As Shore Capital analyst Clive Black points out, that could have serious implications for sustainability, animal welfare standards, even the obesity crisis, and ultimately the viability of the countryside.

But as an island nation outside of the Continental trading bloc, the UK is going to need domestic farmers more than ever, while the pandemic was a wake-up call to the importance of food production self-sufficiency.

In the rush to welcome a new round of supermarket price wars, we mustn’t ignore the collateral damage.

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