The True Cost Of Cheap Christmas Food
Sunday supplements are brimming with recipe ideas for festive dinners, supermarket shelves are stacked high with seasonal favourites and tempting offers like 3 for 2 deals. Combine this with the pressure to put on the feast of the year, it is clear why there’s a demand for cheap food. But while we enjoy getting more for less, maybe it’s also time to ask who ultimately pays for cheap food? The answer is: we all do, though not at the supermarket till.
Here’s why: The criteria applied to the production of cheap food don’t differ from those in the manufacturing industry: cheap clothes or cheap chicken, milk or veg, the principles are the same. It’s economies of scale that reduce production costs. The price is an increase in other costs – and in the end we are the ones who pay them, one way or the other.
So, what does this mean?
Here are three examples. ‘Livestock production accounts for 42% of antibiotic use in the UK’ read a Soil Association tweet. The more animals are kept on a minimum of space the easier it is for disease to spread. Antibiotics are used to treat sick animals and to protect others from becoming ill. The overuse has led an increased resistance. The cost? The growing risk of a GP telling us that there is no antibiotic left to treat us with.
The agricultural practices needed to produce cheap food provide almost ideal conditions for other species to develop resistance through natural selection. Take weeds: only the ones that develop a tolerance to weed killers will go to seed. Farmers combat this by using more herbicides and different combinations of chemicals, neonicotinoids being one of them. Scientist have identified neonicotinoids as being harmful to pollinators, in particular to bees. The Soil Association campaign ‘Keep Britain buzzing’ continues to spell out the costs of pesticide use: bees pollinate 30% of our food crops.
And herbicides don’t just vanish after they have been applied, some are washed into streams and rivers with the rain and some remain in the soil where they accumulate over the years, harming earthworms and many other beneficial organisms. Compensating the lack of soil health with an increased use of fertilisers is a short-term 'solution' that again will cost us dearly in the long run.
So where’s the cheer in these seasonal thoughts? It’s in the slightly higher price you’ve paid for your organic veggies. They’ve been produced without chemicals by farmers whose livelihood depends on keeping the soil healthy. Or the few pence more you pay for your organic milk which comes from cows that you can guarantee haven’t been routinely treated with antibiotics because it is not allowed under organic standards. You’ve paid a little extra now as investment into the (food) future. And: ‘tis the season if even some vegetables are trooping the colours – like this ruby chard.
Look for the logo this Christmas and know more about the true cost of your food. Our Christmas Collective is your Organic Christmas one stop shop!