Should the Government subsidise veggies?

Fresh from watching an edition of Countryfile devoted to veggies*, my mind is turning over the problem of the price of carrots and to a lesser, extent Jersey Royals. One farmer talked about the new national minimum wage meaning he’d have an unsustainable business in four years time and that the most viable option would be to ship out from Essex to Eastern Europe. This is absolutely shocking and when a chap from the Retail Consortium taled about consumers putting downward pressure on prices and retailers being unable to pay our producers more for their crops, my first thought was “why can’t we pay more for our veggies?”

According to the programme buying British is important to people but if it means higher prices, we won’t do it. I’m wondering if there’s a current petition I can sign to encourage all supermarkets to pay producers more and pass the costs onto consumers.

Lettuce-Seascape2

Plant life is vital for good health so should the Government subsidise arable farming? Or could we whack an even bigger tax on highly refined treat food and pass that along to farmers? Or should we just pay more? I am a prudent food shopper who has reduced her family’s meat intake over the past year because it’s better for our bodies, planet and our purses.

I was in Cambridge for work on Friday and I paid 75p for an apple at an innovation centre. I could have bought a packet of crisps or a Mars bar for less I dare say (I don’t know because I don’t buy them – call me out of touch or smug if you like). I paid 75p for the apple because it was a better choice than anything else on offer but I did wonder why on earth a pure, unrefined product cost more than the aforementioned (as I have wondered for many years). Perhaps, I wondered to myself, it’s because they throw a lot a way each week so the price charged factors this is in?

Incidentally, Transition St Albans is showing “Just Eat it,” a film about food waste on Tuesday 7th June at 8pm at St Paul’s Church Complex, AL1 4JP (suggested donation £5). It’s in my diary.

So back to this question of cost. Public Health England’s 2014 Health Survey for England found 61.7% of adults are overweight or obese and our NHS (which was set up in 1948 in part as the most cost effective way of creating a fit workforce after the war, not to deal with lifestyle diseases) can’t cope. We’re not taking enough exercise and we’re eating too much calorie-dense food that doesn’t satiate us, so would it be prudent for the Government to intervene and make veggies cheaper?

I used to believe markets should be left to make themselves but in this scenario it would seem prudent for the Government to intervene and make good food cost less. Here’s my thinking: the people who are over-eating and under-exercising aren’t being given the bill for their healthcare so it’s costing all of us more to fund the NHS. If the Government spent money advertising fruit and vegetables (with as much gusto as the companies who peddle their treat food on bus stop poster boards for instance) and made plant products eye-poppingly cheap then wouldn’t it follow that our health would improve? I know this is incredibly simplistic but the main principle holds: make something attractive enough and people will go for it. Or instead we could charge a fee for access to care and medications related to lifestyle diseases?

Big questions. I feel a debate coming on – perhaps in the SuStAinable St Abans week later this year?

* This is the first time I’ve watched an entire Countryfile (BH Mondays at home are great) and it was absolutely brilliant – social issues, political issues, art, food and farming all blended into an interesting 60 minutes. Cuddle with my dog under a blanket was a bonus. The picture above is made entirely of veggies by Carl Warner who appeared in the programme.