Woolworths Giveaway: Whose money is it anyway?

Shopping at large supermarkets is the worst thing people can do for farmers, according to a local environmental and social justice organisation.

January 23, 2007

Cam Walker, Campaigns Coordinator at Friends of the Earth, says that with 70% of the retail grocery market held by two major players, big supermarkets have the upper hand in their dealings with farmers. "This means that they, not farmers, set the prices and conditions under which they buy. They dictate how, where, when and for how much food is produced, packaged, stored and delivered. They even control what varieties of crops are grown," he said.

Mr Walker said Friends of the Earth had been contacted by many people who were outraged at the gall of the decision by Woolworths to donate a day's trading profits to the Country Women's Association. "Of course this money is a welcome contribution to rural communities, but we should not for a minute overlook the ongoing complicity of such chains in both rural poverty and environmental harm. This is pure spin on the supermarket's part. If Woolworths were serious about the lives and land of farmers, it would change its corporate practices from top to bottom."

Mr Walker noted that Australian farmers are frequently paid less than the cost of production for their goods. The demands and costs of supermarket production mean that few have the time or money to care properly for their land. Many are trapped in a cycle of debt, having invested large amounts to comply with their contracts with supermarkets. Half of all farms rely on off-farm incomes for household subsistence.

Mr Walker cited interviews with Australian farmers, who have reported that their products are often returned because they don't meet the excessively high cosmetic standards of Australian supermarkets – standards that can only be achieved by using pesticides, fertilisers and factory farming methods. He noted that these same methods consume huge quantities of water, considerably reduce biodiversity (in waterways as well as on the land), and ultimately impact on productivity. "Salinity, poor soil and OH&S hazards are just some of the costs to farmers of supermarket production," he said.

In Australia and around the world, hundreds of small scale farmers leave their industry every year, driven out by low prices and erratic sale conditions directly attributable to the power of big supermarket chains. Here, farm numbers have fallen by 25% in 25 years.

Friends of the Earth has widely distributed a flyer challenging the power of large supermarkets, and Mr Walker called on Australian shoppers to do their best for farmers here and overseas by shopping at markets, farmers markets, co-operatives and small retailers.

For comment call: Cam Walker on 9419 8700 or 0419 338 047

Download "Stupidmarkets" leaflet here