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Ethical food advocates demand ACCC investigate Coles and Woolworths. Are farmers and families being ripped off?


Australian local food pioneers Food Connect and CERES Fair Food have joined together to call on the ACCC to break up Australia’s supermarket duopoly and ensure a more just, equitable and sustainable food future for Australian families.

The call comes in the wake of the escalating ‘supermarket war’ between the two giants, with Coles committing to cut prices on a range of fruit and vegetables while Woolworths continues to maintain its fixed low prices on similar items.

According to Food Conect founder and spokesperson Robert Pekin, “the market dominance of Australian supermarkets has meant increased pressure on our farmers to provide cheap fruit and vegetables. The result is a mass exodus of farming families walking off the land at the rate of five per week.”

“With 2012 being the Year of the Farmer, I urge Australian citizens to ask themselves who grew their food and whether those farmers were paid a fair price for their hard work.”

As farmers markets, farmer-direct enterprises (often called CSA or community supported agriculture) and local food businesses proliferate, Food Connect and CERES Fair Food are leading the charge on what could be described as new form of agri-social enterprise that supports ecologically sustainable farming practises while paying farmers as much as 40 cents in the retail dollar for their produce.

“As a result of fair farm-gate prices hundreds of farmers in Queensland, NSW and Victoria have stayed on the land,” says Pekin.

“In stark contrast, the last twelve months has seen 30 Queensland dairy farmers abandon their farms as a direct consequence of the milk price wars initiated by the supermarket duopoly.”

The jointly issued release calls on the ACCC to hold the duopoly to account, declaring that “predatory pricing practices are not only illegal, but un-Australian.”

Rural communities in decline

According to Michael Cebon, founder of ethicaljobs.com.au and formerly of Global Trade Watch), in the past forty years:

  • production has doubled while the value of production has stagnated
  • farming’s contribution to the national economy has plummeted approximately 90%
  • farmer’s costs have doubled
  • median farmer incomes have dropped approximately 30%
  • farmer debt has tripled
  • 45,000 farms have disappeared
  • farm and rural employment has dropped approximately 20%
  • the price of bread has increased at double the price of wheat
  • the price of beer has increased at triple the price of barley
  • the price of steak has increased 45% over the price of cows
  • consumer prices for milk have increased 75% over farm-gate prices

Yet in the same period, share prices for Woolworths and Wesfarmers have increased almost ten-fold.

“With growing global concerns about food security, the ACCC and local, state and federal government need to put pressure on the major supermarkets to end a war where both farmers and consumers have been proven to consistently lose,” says Pekin.

“We call on more Australians to vote with their forks, and help to create a food system fit for the future. If we don’t act now, we risk compromising our food security and it will be our children who will wear the costs down the track.”