Letter: BSE crisis: blame the supermarket chains, not the farmers

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The Independent Online
Sir: The farming industry should receive very little blame and much sympathy for the BSE crisis.

The financial and political clout of a scattered and diverse farming industry is insignificant compared with the concentrated power of the few large retailers and agribusiness companies.

The same agribusiness companies that supply the farmer with his inputs, such as fertiliser, seed, chemicals, breeding-stock, veterinary products and animal feed compounds, purchase a large proportion of the farmer's output. Alternatively a supermarket might have the farm under contract to supply a particular foodstuff direct, as long as the farmer complies with the supermarket's husbandry criteria and meets their stringent product specification and price. Either way the farmer is in the precarious position of being both a weak buyer of his inputs and a weak seller of his produce.

The power of agribusiness was exemplified in the disgraceful causes of the BSE outbreak. A long while ago animal feed compounders replaced a proportion of the vegetable matter in their rations with the processed revolting remains of animals. This action was not requested by their farming customers.

Already the collapse in beef prices and loss of market outlets is causing hardship for beef and dairy farmers. Financial compensation is their right.

Peter C Parrish

Hitchin, Hertfordshire