United Kingdom Agricultural Processes and Development Term Paper

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¶ … economic growth in the United Kingdom slowed down since the summer of 2000 and fell just below potential but performed better than other major economies among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development members (OECD Economic Outlook 2001). Main causes were attributed to global factors, such as decreased high-tech demand overseas, in turn traced to weaker exports, non-residential investment, the foot-and-mouth crisis and poor weather, chiefly in the agriculture and tourism sectors. The rise in inflation reflected the decreasing impact of earlier currency appreciation and temporary factors, like poor weather and of the food-and-mouth epidemic on food prices. While the economic consequences of the September 11 attacks remained difficult to fully assess, the impact of the event could bring on a sharper global performance than expected. It could, in turn, severely affect the economy of the UK through the trade channel and the weakening household and business sentiment and response (OECD Economic Outlook).

High production costs and the influx of cheap imports put Britain's small farms in bad shape (the Ecologist 2000). More than 22,000 farm workers abandoned the industry and the merger of Unigate and Dairy Crest, UK's largest dairy companies, brought bad news to the dairy farmers too. The National Farmers' Union said that three to four British farmers had turned desperate over their situation. A certain group called "GB Choice" set up a labeling method to inform consumers whether the food they bought was produced by British farmers or simply packed or processed in Britain and, in reality, shipped in from other countries. This group lobbied British consumers to apply pressure on supermarkets to affix its label on their products. The group and other advocates also lobbied the government to increase the percentage of organically farmed land to as much as 30% to become organic or converted to organic by the year 2010. Only 1% of British agricultural land was then organic (the Ecologist).

The UK government finally announced to create and embark on an action plan for organic farming with a 4.7% target of farmland by 2007 (the Ecologist 2001). it, however, had to gain the support of private members' bill, which aimed for a 30% conversion rate by the year 2010. Advocates of the Bill claimed that it would promote organic production in the UK, where most organic food was still imported. The campaign acquired the signatures of seven leading British supermarkets in urging for the 30% of UK agricultural land for conversion to become organic by 2010 (Eurofood 2002). These companies were Asda, Booths, Coop, Iceland, Marks and Spencer, and Waitrose. Tesco and Safeway did not give their support. Tesco announced that it would increase sales of organic food to 1 billion pounds sterling in the succeeding five years and this would represent 5% of all food it was selling. Tesco retains more than 1,000 different organic products. Some farmers were dismayed over the refusal of Tesco to sign in. Around 70% of organic food sold in the UK was still imported at the time. Tesco is the UK's biggest food retainer. Tesco re-stated its commitment to the continued growth of the organics market by pledging its support to farmers through the conversion period and by considering new technology and the best practice for those already in the organic sphere. Tesco spokesman Jonathan Church said that his company would support the increase of organic production in the UK and would look at the direction the market was taking the let the customer lead it, rather than establish a target based on land use. It saw organics as having a very good future but it did not sign in because it felt that consumers could change their buying patterns and the direction or goal of the campaign might not be achievable in the succeeding eight to 10 years time. This stance received the backing of the UK government when the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee agreed with Tesco in allowing the organics market drive to further expand rather than fix targets (Eurofood).

The UK Ministry of Agriculture announced that it would reopen and operate the organic farming scheme in England at approximately 20 million pounds sterling a year in the succeeding seven years (Eurofood 2000). Countryside Minister Elliot Morley said the government would allot 18 million pounds sterling for 2001 to 2002, representing more than 50% increase over the previous years. At the time, there were 1,270 farmers and 100,000 hectares in the organic fanning scheme. The government wanted to put more land into organic farming on account of the rise of the level of consumer demand and the environmental benefits accruing from organic farming. The members of the Soil Association, who are organic farmers, however, warned that the financial allotments would be insufficient. They said that approximately 5 million pounds sterling of the 18 million available had to be used for third and fourth year payments to farmers already involved in the organic scheme. The Association predicted that funds for new applications would be depleted within four months. It also urged for earnest stewardship payments to established organic farmers, which all other members of the European Union already availed of (Eurofood).

The comparative environmental burdens of organic agriculture were calculated with those of non-organic agriculture and critics found that there was a differential advantage in organic agriculture at 5 to 25 pound sterling per hectare per year (Choices 2001). These critics, however, admitted that their assessment needed to be substantiated and justified by hard scientific data, which they did not have. They drew their assumption on certain aspects of the countryside scenery and species, which when mixed, would yield 40 pound sterling per hectare per year. This, they believed, would redound to the social value of organic production (Choices).

The organic meat and milk sectors were reported to be in a state of over capacity and decreased sales as many UK livestock farmers participated in the conversion scheme to organic farming (Eurofood 2002). The overcapacity produced specifically adverse effects on the organic lamb and organic beef sectors, which sold the products as conventional meat. Domestic supplies fell short of the demand in previous years and raised the level of imports in all sectors. Some retailers preferred to import because of the relatively high cost of meat production in the UK. Almost most of them substituted imports for domestic products, the prediction was that 20% of the market would be supplied by imports. The supermarkets were the dominant figure in retail sales and their large bargaining power was expected to continue to bring retail prices down (Eurofood).

Consumer apprehension over biotechnology ran high as a consequence of food safety scares and the lack of reliable information about technology (Conlon 2001). In response to this cry, an international conference on the future of biotechnology was held and recognized its potential in increasing agricultural production by controlling crop viruses and pests and by improving the use of marginal land. It also arrived as a clear understanding that before biotechnology could be more widely accepted in Europe, it should first address public concerns and apprehensions, such as those, which occurred in the UK. but, on the whole, biotechnology would be a key factor in shaping the direction of world agriculture (Conlon).

It will be recalled that the Freedom to Farm Act attempted to return agriculture to market-based incentives (Poe 2002). But the general response to this legislation itself was apathetic towards this law and generally failed to recognize the connection between agriculture and society itself. In 2000-2001, Britain went through three fundamentally different farm crises, which individually demonstrated a different aspect of contemporary agriculture and its connection with society. These were farmer-led fuel blockages, the Philips Report on Mad Cow Disease and the Foot-and-Mouth Epidemic of 2001. These objectively agriculture-society issues provide a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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