A Church of England bishop has warned that the big supermarket chains in Britain are putting farming livelihoods at risk by forcing down prices through their buying power.
"The business practices of the major food retailers have placed considerable stress on the farming community through the use of methods which we believe to be unfair and of which consumers seem to be unaware," said Exeter Bishop Michael Langrish at the November 5 launch of a report, "Fairtrade begins at Home: Supermarkets and the effect on British farming livelihoods," written by Neville White and Amanda Young of the Church of England's Ethical Investment Advisory Group.
The report was commissioned in 2003 following concern expressed by dairy farmers at the Church of England's annual synod meeting. They complained that supermarkets rather than market forces were determining the price of milk.
"Making farmers pay for supermarkets' own promotions is just one of a number of invisible and pernicious practices squeezing farm-gate prices," the report states.
White told Ecumenical News International, "It has taken us several years to produce this report which among other things calls for an independent ombudsman [mediator] to stop supermarkets squeezing farmers."
The Church of England owns about 50,000 hectares of land as part of its investment portfolio. Much of it is rented out to tenant farmers.
White said the church's investments in the food retail sector are complicated to assess but they total more than 70 million British pounds (US$145 million)
A spokesperson for the supermarket chain Morrisons was quoted as saying by The Times newspaper: "We are keen supporters of regional producers and have many small and local suppliers. We have responded to the recent plight of sheep and pig farmers and are supporting the industry through this difficult time.
"Within the last month we have announced our commitment that 100 percent of the fresh pork and fresh lamb sold in stores nationwide will now be British-sourced. Our action confirms our strong relationship and commitment to British farmers and will further help ensure a sustainable British supply chain."