Last night I tuned into journalist Boucher Hayes's foray into the Irish food sector just at the half-way point, but I was in plenty of time to see the depressing state of Ireland's food growing industry.
The main supermarket chains in the Irish market are Tesco, Dunnes Stores and Supervalu, which hold a huge amount of power over how prices are set. This has meant that produce growers have faced drastically decreased prices over the past thirty years, while the cost of growing has grown exponentially. This has led to many farmers being forced out of the industry. More significantly, the lack of power held by producers has meant that cheap produce can be easily imported from overseas, which is not only economically, but also environmentally and often ethically unsound.
Boucher Hayes revealed the completely unsurprising fact that, despite promises to the contrary, the arrival of large shopping centres near town centres such as Naas, Co. Kildare actually leads to jobs being lost in the town. Small businesses which were the lifeblood of communities are forced to complete with the perceived wider choice and lower prices of the Tescos and Supervalus. This has a knock-on effect on the local businesses they support which frequently go under due to the pressure of such mighty competition.
Small butchers, bakers, greengrocers and other artisanal businesses provide an arguably more valuable service to the community by using local produce and sustaining jobs within the community, they continue to stuggle to provide a niche service which cannot be expected to compete with behemoths who give an impression of lower prices. However, as Boucher Hayes revealed, these bargains are often shouldered by the producer, already straining to get their product to the supermarket shelves at even the rock-bottom price that the big supermarkets demand. They are often too frightened to speak out about such price gouging techniques for fear of being blacklisted.
The most astonishing revelation was that Tesco earns more of a profit in Ireland than any other country in the world other than South Korea. This piece of information is hard to come by, given that they do not disclose their profits for Ireland. This seems highly irregular, especially given their massive profits in this country, and might lead one to wonder how they manage to pocket such impressive sums. One can only hope that their tax returns are all up to date, especially at a time when the state could use every bit of revenue it can lay its hands on.
Ciaran Murphy from Murphy's Ice-cream recommended regionality in terms of selling products, which would mean that producers would be able to stock items in certain areas of high sales and have more autonomy over selling their produce. I see this as the way to go, in addition to developing local economies, where co-operatives would help to give growers the support and solidarity they need.
'What's Ireland Eating' seems to have sparked a frenzy of online debate about what we are eating in this country and where it comes from. It was refreshing to see a quality piece of journalistic investigation on RTÉ, usually the home of moronic entertainment and fawning political debate. This programme will be available online until 29 May on the RTÉ website here, and I certainly recommend a watch.
For the rest of the week, I will be taking part in Eat Only Irish for a Week. I'll be keeping a food diary of what I eat, and will write about my experiences as I go on.