Ann Fitzgerald: Stop celebrating cheap food - we deserve a fair price for our produce
What sector of society would celebrate the imposition of wage cuts on a similar sector?
Could you see nurses cheering the slashing of teachers' wages, shop assistants cheering cuts for factory workers, dentists cheering cutbacks for engineers?
Yet, this - the celebration of income cuts - is effectively what is happening every time a consumer boasts about buying cheap Irish food, which has become commonplace in supermarket advertising.
As a beef farmer, I am especially sick of ads in which people crow about cheap Irish steaks. A reduced price might be OK on a one-off or even irregular basis but discounted prices are now the norm.
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When Irish vegetables were plentiful, they were used as loss-leaders. Now, most Irish vegetable growers have gone out of business.
Irish beef is currently plentiful; and the reason why supermarkets sell it cheaply is simply, because they can.
When a supermarket flyer landed in my letterbox last week declaring, "journalists all over Ireland are raving about price cuts", you can imagine my reaction.
But I then asked myself if this is really true. Most of the examples in the flyer could be termed advertorial (so the 'raving' was understandable, and presumably would be recognised as such by most consumers.)
But it is obvious that we are increasingly seeing more generalised coverage celebrating the availability of cheap food.
One recent comment about a named supermarket chain read, "any store that can sell two confit duck legs for a fiver is a far more valuable addition…"
The idea that low-priced food is a good thing has gotten into the mainstream psyche. As if everybody was winning from it.
Those who produce it are not winning from it; it is hurting them badly. Everyone deserves a fair wage for a fair day's work.
So I'd ask my fellow journalists to consider: how would you like it if you were called in by your editor to be told, "your wages are going to be halved but you have to continue supplying the same amount of copy of the same standard".
If you had something else in the offing, you would probably tell him/her to take a hike, but other than that you would probably suck it up and try to keep going. Unless you're a big name in RTÉ, a major slash in income is not sustainable long-term.
I'm not blaming journalists for beef's dire straits, but please remember that remarks which cheapen food are harmful.
Instead, why not focus on its high quality, for example, in the case of extensively raised Irish beef and lamb?
I also ask those promoting Irish food to work in the message that paying a fair price helps our farmers to stay in business which, in turn, helps the continued production of quality food.
There is something that enlightened consumers can do, too - support your local butcher.
Most butchers supply their own shops and/or source as much as possible from local producers, paying them a fair price, and selling it onwards likewise.
Not only that, but butchers' shops are, in the main, owned and staffed by locals and so are an important part of rural economies and communities.
So, consumers, please buy Irish and pay a fair price for it.
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