Supermarkets and Their Slogans
Adulterating food for profit isn’t a new story. ‘The Old Testament’ first alerted its readers to it with the shrill warning that there is, ‘death in the pot!’ (II Kings chap.4, verse 40). At the turn of the twentieth century The New York Evening Post even penned an ode to it:
Mary had a little lamb,
And when she saw it sicken,
She shipped it off to Packingtown,
And now it’s labelled chicken.
David Cameron revealed his thoughts on the subject when he stated that it was a ‘very shocking story, it’s completely unacceptable. . . people will be very angry to find out they have been eating horse when they thought they were eating beef.’ So will those that sold it to them—the supermarkets. They’ve been caught out at their own game by their suppliers: horsemeat costs £300 per ton and beef £700 per ton.
‘Every little helps’ chirps the Tesco slogan, and your helpful cash brings in around £3+ billion in pre-tax profits per year for Tesco from a market share of 30 per cent. About £1 in every £10 spent in British shops ends up in Tescos’ tills. Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons share a further 47 per cent of the total market. With the UK grocery market worth more than £163 billion, the big four are engaged in a constant battle to out manoeuvre each other for a juicier helping of the profit pie.
Sainsbury’s ask you to ‘try something new today’. That’s not too difficult giventhat almost 80 per cent of the food sold in supermarkets today didn’t exist 15 years ago. The majority of these new items are packaged junk food distinguished by their significant lack of nutrients thanks to the pioneering work of the food processors. Like many modern technologies, food processing was developed over the past two centuries to serve military needs: junk food is the lucrative spin-off. People didn’t suddenly demand spicy burgers or chicken nibbles. The market was created because cheap raw materials could be converted into much more expensive, and thus extremely profitable, items to be sold through supermarkets and other retail outlets. Fresh food has its pecuniary advantages too. Researcher Tania Hurt-Newton revealed that the income derived from pineappleswas shared out in these ratios: 4 per cent was earned by the workers; the plantation owners pocketed 17 per cent; 38 per cent went to the multi-national traders; and the supermarkets scalped 41 per cent. A survey conducted by the NFU in 2002 discovered that abasket of food (eggs, milk, bread, tomatoes, beef, and apples) costing £37 in the supermarket returned just £11 to the farmers. Today it is less.
Morrison’s slogan, ‘More of what matters’, will obviously include what in America is called ‘pink slime’, and in the UK the food industry calls ‘filler’. Pink slime is the scraps left after butchering that has been cleaned with ammonia. In 2012, ABC News claimed that of the ground beef sold in American supermarkets around 70 per cent was composed of pink slime. Filler is fat and collagen; derived from the ligaments and tendons of butchered carcasses. This is what bulks out mince meat. New EU rules want to limit this to 19 per cent fat and collagen. But The Telegraph (3 February) revealed that, ‘Supermarkets will be able to sell minced meat containing more than 50 per cent “filler” under Government plans to avoid EU limits’. Similarly, the pressure by supermarkets to force down suppliers’ prices has driven manufacturers to concoct ever cheaper ingredients. Thus the BBC (28 February) can report that European meat suppliers are: ‘using a loophole in the law to sell a banned low quality material to UK sausage makers. Called desinewed meat . . . it’s retrieved from animal bones using low pressure water. Visually it is said to be similar to a fine mince, and closer to meat than the more liquid ‘mechanically separated meat’ (MSM) ‘slurry.’
US poultry meat and cattle exports reached almost $10 billion in 2011, and a total of 33.5 million head of cattle were slaughtered. A few novel ingredients were added to boost profits: around 80 per cent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are gobbled up by factory farming. Cows, poultry, fish and pigs are routinely dosed up by U.S producers. In 1946 the food industry discovered that using antibiotics in livestock feed increased their growth by as much as 3 per cent. It also allowed livestock to be incarcerated in overcrowded and filthy conditions that under other circumstances would have spawned rates of disease and death that would have made it entirely unprofitable. The US Food and Drug Administration has finally acknowledged it as a, ‘mounting public health problem of global significance’ (inthesetimes.com). And a New England Journal of Medicine study found that ‘20 per cent of ground meat obtained in supermarkets contained salmonella. Of that 20 per cent contaminated with salmonella, 84 per cent was resistant to at least one form of antibiotic’ (pbs.org/).
Asda’s slogan asks: ‘Why pay more?’ And why should they?The National Beef Association recently accused supermarkets of ‘short-sighted, price-led, purchasing tactics and a bullying culture.’ When you control around 86 per cent of the market you can use that buying power to put tremendous pressures on suppliers to deliver goods to you at extremely low prices under terms and agreements dictated by your monopoly of the market. Unsurprisingly, those pressures are then exerted downwards on those that actually grow, pick, pack and deliver the food through low wages, long hours, and piss-poor conditions of work.
The Telegraph(27 April 2008) disclosed one of the many tactics used by supermarkets, coined The Flaming Lamborghini. ‘Supermarkets ship in young, hungry graduates in their mid-20s. They send them to be trained to learn a particular buying strategy and then send them out to do battle with the suppliers. Pay is linked to performance. Squeeze another half penny out of the supplier and the buyer’s pay will rise. . . Buyers’ lives are often short-lived and they are shuttled from pet food to beer to toiletries. The goal is to ensure they never build up close relationships which might tempt them to treat suppliers more kindly.
The Co-operative Group stands at number five in food retailing controlling 9 per cent of the UK market. Its slogan is: ‘Good with food’. The question is: good for whom? Beginning with inputs like seeds, to fertilisers and agricultural machinery, to the processing, transportation, and finally the retailing of food, each area is now dominated by a handful of extremely powerful multinational corporations. Over the past 20 years, through a series of deals and corporate takeovers, names like Monsanto, Syngenta, Unilever, Diageo, Nestle, Kellogg’s, through to Sainsbury’s, Asda and Tesco have gained control of their respective market sectors, thereby escalating their profits to once unthought-of levels. This process is the embodiment of capitalism. Dynamic—fully tuned and optimised—generating a brimming pot for division amongst a faceless class of parasites.
David Cameron considered that the horsemeat saga was a ‘very shocking story’. A so-called ‘fraud’ in a global system built and maintained on fraud. Here’s another story: UNESCO acknowledges that there is ‘Abundant supplies of food for 100 per cent of humanity’. But over 16 million people are dying from starvation and 800 million are seriously malnourished, whilst billions live a hand to mouth existence – and all too often very little making it to the mouth. This ‘other’ story will continue to run until a majority of us adopt the slogan: One World—One People. Only then will we gain control of what we produce.