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Why are farmers so angry? part three

  • by JW

“States and the large companies which dominate these complex systems are best placed to lead the way.” [Alex Heffron, Lancaster University]


The question continues to be asked: Why are farmers so angry? – the reasons lying somewhere between having “justified grievances about having to bear the burden of providing a vital service” and “so many demands on our land, from capturing carbon to reversing the biodiversity loss, with little space for farmers to produce food profitably in the UK”.

There are several ways ahead, as covered on these pages before. Jack Marley, Environment + Energy Editor at the Conversation looks at a couple of these, perhaps unpalatable, ways ahead, where he asks why farmers are struggling to go green:

More than a third of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the way we produce, process and package food. It’s also the biggest driver of the diminishing variety of life on Earth. Solving these problems will require root-and-branch reform of farming. But so far, the burden has fallen on relatively slight shoulders: individual farmers and you, the consumer…

You may have noticed that the onus for building a sustainable food system is also falling on you. With promotional campaigns urging you to plump for plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy, the calculation seems to be that consumer demand alone can engineer a shift away from the most harmful food operations.

UK farmers were already making their voices heard over proposed changes back in 2022: Good Food, Good Farming March – Landworkers Alliance

But how realistic is this? How much power really lies in the supermarket aisle? Global food system researcher Benjamin Selwyn at the University of Sussex is sceptical, arguing that many of the companies making vegan burgers and yoghurts are also big producers of beef, milk and cheese.

The kind of food we grow and how we grow it must change radically. Alex Heffron, a PhD candidate in geography at Lancaster University, argues that a coordinated response that seeks to transform the food system in its entirety is the only way to do this, and that states and the large companies which dominate these complex systems (and much of their revenue) are best placed to lead the way.

While the responsibility remains on cash-strapped producers and consumers at opposite ends of food supply chains, business-as-usual will continue.