UK food chain in danger of becoming beholden to other countries, farming conference warned

OUR food chain is in danger of becoming “beholden” to other countries and to large companies, a farming conference will be told today.

The Oxford Farming Conference commissioned a report examining where the economic, political and natural resource power currently lies in world agriculture.

Despite being a small nation, the UK currently ranks “respectably” for political, corporate and trade power but is vulnerable in the long-term to the availability and control over natural and mineral resources, it says. With countries such as China and Brazil coming up the ranks, the UK Government will need to act with policy to retain this position.

Among the speakers today will be Suffolk-born Farming Minister Jim Paice.

Tomorrow’s line-up includes Suffolk’s Euston Estate director Andrew Blenkiron, who will be talking about power in agriculture and how farm businesses can respond, and Oliver Paul, of Suffolk Food Hall, near Ipswich, on keeping close to the supply chain.

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The conference-commissioned report looks at the growing power of the developing or newly-industrialised countries, such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, (BRICS), and of transnational corporations. Who holds natural resources will impact UK farmers and the food chain, it says, and unless we increase our control in these areas, the impact won’t be a positive one. Our food chain is in danger of becoming beholden to other countries and to large companies, it warns.

The report highlights the crucial importance of trading relationships in global power and the UK’s position as a major importer and exporter in a number of key commodities is seens as crucial to its success at a global level.

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The findings highlight that agricultural trade is concentrated between relatively few countries, with the top 20 exporting and importing countries accounting for 78% of global exports and 70%of global imports. Similar levels of concentration can be found in the trade of individual commodities.

The UK has a disproportionate concentration of trans-national corporations (TNCs) based here, which gives us strength in corporate power, it says. In global terms this must be seen as a positive since those organisations are powerful when it comes to decisions that affect agriculture. But while that continues to give the UK international influence, it does not necessarily translate into an improved position for our farmers.

An ongoing process of consolidation through takeovers and mergers has meant that TNCs have become increasingly dominant in all aspects of the agricultural supply chain. It is estimated that four companies account for between 75% and 90% of the global grain trade and seven companies control virtually all fertiliser supply. Five companies share 68% of the world’s agrochemical market and three companies control almost 50% of the proprietary seeds market

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