Supermarkets present a very seductive picture to the consumer, but just under the surface it is a different story.
Research carried out in the UK some 15 years ago revealed that the average distance travelled by the food in a typical supermarket trolley is more than 3,000 kilometers. Most”fresh” produce is at least 4 days old and has passed through a number of processing and storage plants, involving subjection to very different temperature fluctuations, before getting onto the shelves. In the process, there is a loss of between 40 and 50% of the nutritional value of these foods.
„Sell by dates” are routinely altered in many chains, to keep fresh looking produce longer. Staff are paid very low rates and, in more than one known chain, have to wear nappies, as they are not given sufficient breaks to go to the toilet.
Huge power requirements are needed to maintain freezer and cold storage facilities, drawing heavilly on the national grid and thereby encouraging wasteful practices that increase already critical global warming patterns. They use excessive, non biodegradeable packaging and contribute significantly to Britain’s vast saturated rubbish tips.
Being able to buy “anything at any time” comes at a high price to our environment and farmers. The large supermarket chains buy their supplies from wherever it is produced at the lowest cost on the world market. Organic and conventional. This involves contracting large agrichemical oriented farms to mass produce “cheap” food. Because the price paid is very low, the farmer has to compensate by maximising production and minimising employment.
The result is the huge monocultural prairies that dominate US agriculture and have now established a significant foothold in Europe. These ‘food factories’ are entirely dependent upon chemical inputs: herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, nitrate fertilizers and increasingly, genetically modified seeds/plants. Their soils are so barren that they care incapable of producing any crops at all without heavy doses of agrichemicals.
The same applies to meat production. The great majority of farm animals, in order to be raised to strict supermarket specifications and time lines, are housed is vast sheds with very little room to move freely or express their natural physiological needs. Electric lighting is kept on night and day and most animals never see real daylight or indeed, the outside world. Pigs and chickens are routinely fed antibiotics in their heavilly processed and genetically modified feed, in order to speed up their rate of growth and prevent them from becoming sick. Inspite of this, mortality rates are high.
All chickens routinely have their beaks clipped in order to stop them pecking each other in the overcrowded cages in which they are raised. The feed of egg laying hens contains chemical colours to make the yolks look red. The farmer can choose from a wide variety of orange colourings.
When I kept hens (free range) I was sent a yolk „colour chart” by the manufacturers hoping I would buy their products!
Without these colours the yolks of hens kept in these conditions would be grey and conequently completely unacceptable. Hens require access to green foods (ie grass) to have naturally orange yolks. The hens that supply the supermarket chains never get outside. They live for an average of just 3 months before being culled and put on display on polystyrene dishes in supermarket chillers, as quick chill chicken dishes and dog/cat food. The same goes for birds specifically grown for meat: they are fed 24 hours a day on genetically modified maize and soya plus antibiotic growth promotors in vast indoor air controlled (no windows) sheds often containing upwards of 30,000 hens. They are slaughtered at an average age of 2.5 months, their under – formed leggs barely able to hold their exaggerated weight.
Pigs suffer in similar conditions as chickens. They are housed on concrete and metal slatted floors and in large artificially heated and lit sheds. They are fed on mostly antibiotic laced GM soya and the piglets are fattened and slaughtered in less than half the time of piglets raised on free range outdoor systems.
On average, dairy cattle are culled (slaughtered) after just 3 lactation cycles, because they cannot maintain the peak volumes of milk demanded by the supermarkets in their thirst for profit, beyond the age of 4/5 years. Many suffer severe mastitis inflamations of the udder and hoof rotting due to the unnatural conditions in which they are kept.
On my organic farm in the UK, my diary cattle averaged 14 years before they ceased commercial milk production. I then kept them on as nurse cows for raising calves.
Each large supermarket that gains planning permission acceptance leads to the subsequent loss of an average of 250 local jobs through the closure of local businesses (Rural Development Commission, 1992). Money which used to circulate in the local economy is lost to the global economy, thereby draining the community of its life blood.
Supermarkets and hypermarkets require special road structures to cater for their large transportation vehicles and equally large concreted delivery areas. They are major contributors to CO2 emmissions, largely because of their vast and power hungry refrigeration units, but also because they encourage families to use cars to get to them – instead of shopping locally.
Tesco’s profit margins increase every year – and are now regularly in the 3.5 billion pound area. The other large competing chains are not far behind. They are all leading exponents of a cetralised market economy and have no interest in supporting local communities or stocking local food, inspite of requests to do so from their customers. Their representatives often claim that they will take an interest in purchasing locally – to placate any critics – but in reality they source 98 percent of their produce wherever it can be purchased most cheaply and most easily on the national and world market: via farming ‘sweat shops’.
All in all supermarkets and hypermarkets are at the front line of contributors to a degraded food growing environment on a global scale; inhumane animal welfare practices and the undermining of the integrity of local communities.
Any community that wishes to encourage a robust local economy would be well advised to steer well clear of such marketing practices. Individuals should think three times before spending their money in support of such irresponsible and market dominating monoliths.