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.