Leading article: Power and responsibility

Share

The influence of the major supermarket chains on our lives is coming under unprecedented scrutiny. While millions take advantage of their low prices and the sector is applauded in the City for its efficiency, supermarkets are also accused of forcing independent grocers to close down and encouraging shoppers to drive to out-of-town superstores. It makes for an edgy relationship, as vividly illustrated by The Independent's recent campaign against waste, and the surprisingly intense public irritation with some supermarket practices which it uncovered.

But this is to focus on what we might term the downstream effects of the supermarkets' power - where they come into contact with consumers. The upstream effects, and in particular the ways in which they interact with their suppliers, are far less visible to the public at large, yet just as wide-ranging, and have just as big a potential for good or harm.

They were thrown into sharp relief yesterday when the president of the National Farmers' Union, Peter Kendall, accused the major supermarket chains of failing to give some suppliers, in particular dairy farmers, a living wage for their product, to the extent that three British dairy farmers a day were going out of business. We are used to NFU presidents asking for more money for their members; that's what unions do.

But there are two reasons why Sainsbury's et al should heed Mr Kendall's plea. The first is that there is independent evidence to back him up: 10 days ago the House of Commons All-Party Group on Dairy Farming found that while the retail price of milk had risen by 11 per cent in the past 15 years, the price paid to farmers for it had fallen by 10 per cent. The dairy industry was indeed being "ripped off" by the supermarkets, the MPs concluded.

The second is more fundamental: it concerns the effects of the supermarkets' vast buying power on the environment. We have seen this put to good use in their growing support for organic farming, allowing consumer preference for a more sustainable agriculture to be realised.

But driving small dairy farms to the wall, for the sake of a few pence off the cost of a pint of milk, cannot represent a healthy way forward for a patchwork, intimate countryside. Vast agribusiness operations and their industrial-scale operations have nearly always proved harmful to wildlife and the environment in general.

We are now realising that the supermarkets have the power to do to the countryside what they have done to many a high street; they should start to think hard about this power, and the responsibility it entails.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why