Power & Responsibility – Chickens & Supermarkets

It’s very easy for us to blame the supermarkets for the problems in the food industry and the cruel methods of producing eggs and meat that are so common. We know the farmers are squeezed to produce at lower and lower prices by the supermarkets, so it must be their fault.

Battery Chickens, Who is to Blame? The Supermarket? Us?

The truth is that the supermarkets are squeezed by us, the consumer. Some 40 years ago the concept of self-service supermarkets really took off. Initially some grocers realised that people would come to their shop, load the goods into a basket or trolley themselves and reduce the grocer’s labour costs. He could pass this saving on to his customers, a penny off here, a penny off there and this would attract customers from other shops in the area.

If that seems obvious, trust me, it wasn’t obvious 40 years ago. Many shopkeepers stuck to their guns. People were loyal to them because of the way they were treated, they were almost friends of the grocer. People wouldn’t want to give up counter service to be herded like sheep, just to save a few pennies. Those shopkeepers became ex-shopkeepers and the supermarket war had started.

The individually owned corner shop is a thing of the past, our desire to save money has killed it. The supermarkets, like many businesses, grew. The market concentrated to the big 5 we now have in the UK. At the same time, in the drive for efficiency that would enable lower price offerings to the consumer and increased profits to the shareholders went on. Vertical integration of the supply chain and increased buying power meant the efficiency improved and the supermarkets now had almost total control of the industry.

Farmers might be self-employed individuals, but if you have only one customer, can you really be called independent? I think not.

Chicken Out & Fowl Dinners

Today we have a campaign led by celebrity chefs to improve the husbandry standards of the poultry and egg industries. Their wrath is directed at those supermarkets that control the supply chain but is that really fair?

We, the consumer, have the real power. Supermarkets don’t care what we say or what we think. They care about what we do, specifically about how and where we spend our money. If you refuse to buy battery cage produced chicken eggs, they will not sell them. If you refuse to buy broiler chickens that do not, at least, have the Freedom Food standard they will stop selling them.

It’s up to us to choose. We spend our money and make our choice.

Labelling of Foods

We can’t even blame the supermarkets for the labelling on products. If you went into Tesco and their eggs were labelled “Laid by Battery Caged Chickens” but in Morrisons those same eggs were labelled “Farm Fresh Eggs” what would you buy?

The full, clear and truthful information will only be given to us if it is required by law. That’s down to the politicians and they’re interested in our vote. If the politicians think enough of us care and it will influence our voting intentions, trust me, it will change.

Whatever the end result of this campaign, which I support fully, for wholesome food produced to ethical standards, cruelty free chickens will only become the standard if we insist on it. It’s up to us to take responsibility and vote with our purse and in the ballot box.


Posted in Rants and Raves
4 comments on “Power & Responsibility – Chickens & Supermarkets
  1. caroline says:

    I disagree. The consumer is a just a slightly less hapless victim of the power-crazed supermarkets than the suppliers. To wit: the price-fixing of the supermarket milk prices as investigated at snails pace by the competition commission; the fact that the supermarkets in a price war never bring the prices down to anything like that which they pay the supplier; the fact that most families in todays busy society cannot spare the effort to do the shopping around necessary to unseat these monsters from their thrones and, most of all, the fact that the average payment earned by a farmer per chicken is 3 bloody p, werent you listening? It’s profiteering and when we all go over to free range eggs they’ll all have the same price in every supermarket and the egg farmers will still get bugger all per egg. Pardon the french.

  2. John says:

    Well it’s nice you’re emotionally engaged, but please try to keep the language moderate. Of course I was listening and paying close attention, although there were few surprises to me. I’ve visited a battery farm.
    We’ve built a system of institutional corporate greed that utilises our greed. Why can’t people spare the time? Too busy earning to buy another playstation or the latest mobile built by Chinese labourers earning less in a month than they do in a day. Stopping for a coffee that costs more than a south American family get for a days hard work harvesting coffee.
    Of course the supermarkets milk the market for every penny – that’s the capitalist system we have. Unless you have a better system, and revolution hasn’t really worked elsewhere, then the only thing to do is vote with your purse.
    Do think though, if people haven’t got time to shop then they’ll continue to go to convenient one stop shops, further killing the independant sector – the butcher, the greengrocer and all small shops are very endangered species.

  3. Tracy says:

    Or, even better make the allotment your supermarket so you never have to go shopping again!

  4. John says:

    At least for vegetables – Larry gave me an old fashioned look when I suggested a cow on the plot!

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