1970s >> 1974 >> no-833-january-1974

Subsidizing Food Destruction

One of the first pieces of legislation to be presented to the House of Commons this session has been the Horticulture (Special Payments) Bill. The intention of this bill is to provide for payments to be made to commercial growers of horticultural products, especially growers of apples and pears, facing “special difficulties” as a result of Britain’s entry into the Common Market.

These “difficulties” are likely to arise after 1978 by which time Britain’s markets will be completely open to competition from EEC producers. The strength of this competition can be gauged from the fact that British production of pears this year is an estimated 40,000 tons while in the EEC the total amount “withdrawn from the market” (i.e. destroyed) were an estimated 378,000 tons in 1971-72. Obviously with the tariff and quota barriers down these surpluses could provide British growers with plenty of bracing competition which is supposed to do so much good for everyone. However the government intend, through this Bill, to shelter and cushion British growers from any such thing. Minister of Agriculture, Anthony Stodart, told the House of Commons that as a specialised branch of agriculture which had problems of its own horticulture justified different treatment from the rest of industry, and that the government “. . . had a responsibility to growers who must not be sacrificed in the wider national interest” (Hansard, 16 November 1973).

As we have pointed out before, governments, of whatever political persuasion, exist to protect the interests of the capitalist class (i.e. the owners of the means of life). This they do in a number of ways—tariff barriers and subsidies to producers for example — always bearing in mind that by such measures they expect a healthier national capitalism to be the outcome.

The Horticulture (Special Payments) Bill is just such a measure, and has been welcomed as such. Payments are to be made to growers of apples and pears who discontinue production. The scheme is expected to cost £4.5 million to £5 million over the period 1974-78. This figure is far in excess of the £440,000 spent up to mid 1972 under a similar scheme (see Socialist Standard January 1973). There are to be checks on the growers who apply for the “grubbing up” subsidy to ensure that the orchards dug up are not replanted for at least five years. In effect the government are subsidising the destruction of productive resources.

In this way, it is hoped, the competitive efficiency of British horticulture will be improved by reducing the amount of produce reaching the market. As a result market prices are expected to continue their upward trend after a period during the ’sixties when prices stagnated while costs increased. “Surpluses”, that is more being produced than the market can absorb profitably, could upset this state of affairs. As Roger Moate, M.P. for the Kent constituency of Faversham, pointed out:

It needs only a small amount of surplus at any moment to disrupt the market entirely, and a grower can quickly lose almost his annual profit because of the disruption.

(Hansard, 16 November, 1973)

So once again, in a world where food is short, market considerations get priority over the needs of people. All we need now is for a cynic to point out that the trees dug up could help to alleviate the fuel crisis.

Gwynn Thomas