The End of British Farming

Andrew O’Hagan

This last while I have carried my heart in my boots. For a minute or two I actually imagined I could be responsible for the spread of foot and mouth disease across Britain. On my first acquaintance with the hill farmers of the Lake District, on a plot high above Keswick, I had a view of the countryside for tens of miles. I thought of the fields that had passed underfoot, all the way back to Essex, through Dumfriesshire, Northumberland or Sussex. Later I would continue on my way to Devon, passing through other places waking up in the middle of the worst agricultural nightmare in seventy years. My boots are without guilt, but in all the walking here and there, in the asking and listening, I came to feel that British farming was already dying, that the new epidemic was but an unexpected acceleration of a certain decline.

In the last few weeks nearly 100,000 head of livestock have been condemned. The industry has lost £300 million. A freeze still holds on the export of livestock. Country footpaths are zones of reproach and supermarkets are running out of Argentinian beef. The Agriculture Minister, Nick Brown, is accused of doing too much and doing too little. The questions surrounding the foot and mouth epidemic – where will it all end? how did it all start? – might be understood to accord with anxiety about every aspect of British agriculture today. The worst has not been and gone. It is yet to come. Still, one thing may already be clear: British farming hanged itself on the expectation of plenty.

One day not long ago I was in the Sainsbury’s superstore on the Cromwell Road. Three of the company’s top brass ushered me down the aisles, pointing here, gasping there, each of them in something of a swoon at the heavenliness on offer. ‘People want to be interested,’ said Alison Austin, a technical adviser, ‘you’ve just got to capture their imagination.’ We were standing by the sandwiches and the takeaway hot foods lined up in front of the whooshing doors. Alison swept her hand over the colourful bazaar of sandwich choices. ‘This is a range called Be Good to Yourself,’ she said, ‘with fresh, healthy fillings, and here we have the more gourmet range, Taste the Difference. We have a policy of using British produce where we can. With carrots, for example, we want to provide economic profitability to the farmer, using the short carrots for one line of produce and the bigger ones for another.’

The Cromwell Road branch of Sainsbury’s is what they call a ‘flagship store’. It’s not only a giant emporium, it is also grander than any other store in the chain, selling more champagne, fresh fish, organic meat and Special Selection food. Six varieties of caviar are available all year round.

‘People are gaining more confidence in sushi,’ said Peter Morrison, Manager, Trading Division. ‘We have joined forces with very credible traders such as Yo! Sushi and we aim to educate customers by bringing them here.’ Alison handed me a cup of liquid grass from the fresh juice bar, Crussh. There was something unusually potent about that afternoon – the thoughts in my head as I tilted the cup – and for a moment the whole supermarket seemed to spin around me. People wandered by. The place was a madhouse of bleeping barcodes. ‘How do you like it?’ one of them asked. I gulped it down and focused my eyes. ‘It tastes like an English field,’ I said.

The store manager guided me to the cut flowers. ‘We are the UK’s largest flower sellers,’ he told me, ‘the biggest year on year increase of any product in the store is in flowers.’ The bunches before me were a far cry from the sad carnations and petrol station bouquets that now lie about the country as tributes to the suddenly dead. The ones he showed me had a very smart, sculptural appearance, and they sold for £25 a pop. ‘We have 40 kinds of apple,’ Alison said, ‘and again, we take the crop, the smaller ones being more for the economy bags.’

‘Someone came in on Christmas Eve and asked for banana leaves,’ the keen young product manager over in fruit and vegetables told me, ‘and you know something? We had them.’

You would have to say that Sainsbury’s is amazing. It has everything – 50 kinds of tea, 400 kinds of bread, kosher chicken schnitzels, Cornish pilchards – and everywhere I turned that day there was some bamboozling elixir of the notion of plenty. Their own-brand products are made to high standards: the fresh meat, for example, is subject to much higher vigilance over date and provenance than any meat in Europe.[1] ‘Some things take a while,’ Peter Morrison said, ‘you can put something out and it won’t work. Then you have to think again, about how to market it, how to package it, where to place it, and six months later you’ll try again and it might work.’ We stopped beside the yoghurts. ‘Now this,’ he said, picking up a tub of Devon yoghurt, ‘is made at a place called Stapleton Farm. We got wind of how good it was: a tiny operation, we went down there, we got some technical advisers involved, and now look, it’s brilliant!’ I tasted some of the Stapleton yoghurt. It was much better than the liquid grass. ‘It’s about the rural business growing,’ Peter said. ‘Real food is what people want. This couple in Devon’ – he gestured to the yoghurt pots – ‘started from virtually nowhere. Of course they were nervous at first about working with such a major retailer. But these people are the new kind of producer.’

Passing the condiments aisle I saw an old man standing in front of the Oxo cubes. He looked a bit shaky. His lips were moving and he had one of the foil-wrapped Oxo cubes in the palm of his hand. ‘People go to Tuscany,’ Alison was saying, ‘and they eat Parma ham and they come back here and they want it all the time. So we go out and find the best.’ You are always alone with the oddness of modern consumption. Walking under the white lights of Sainsbury’s you find out just who you are. The reams of cartons, the pyramids of tins: there they stand on the miles of shelves, the story of how we live now. Cereal boxes look out at you with their breakfast-ready smiles, containing flakes of bran, handfuls of oats, which come from fields mentioned in the Domesday Book. And here you are in the year 2001 – choosing. We went over to the aisle with the cooking oils and Alison did one of her long arm-flourishes: ‘When I was a child,’ she said, ‘my mother used a bottle of prescription olive oil to clean the salad bowl. Now look!’ A line of tank-green bottles stretched into the distance. ‘Choice!’ she said.

Supermarket people like to use certain words. When you are with them in the fruit department they all say ‘fresh’ and ‘juicy’ and ‘variety’ and ‘good farming practices’. (Or as head office puts it, ‘in 1992 Sainsbury developed a protocol for growing crops under Integrated Crop Management System principles. Following these principles can result in reduced usage of pesticides by combining more traditional aspects of agriculture and new technologies.’) In the meat department there is much talk of ‘friendly’, ‘animal well-being’, ‘humane’, ‘safe’, ‘high standards’ and ‘provenance’. The executives spent their time with me highlighting what they see as the strength of the partnerships with British farming which keep everyone happy. ‘The consumer is what matters,’ said Alison, ‘and we believe in strong, creative, ethical retailing.’

Down at the front of the store again I put one of the gourmet sandwiches on a table and opened it up. The bread was grainy. The lettuce was pale green and fresh. Pieces of chicken and strips of pepper were neatly set out on a thin layer of butter. The open sandwich was a tableau of unwritten biographies: grains and vegetables and meat were glistening there, uncontroversially, their stories of economic life and farming history and current disaster safely behind them.

When I was a boy we had a painting above the phone table. It was the only real painting in the house, and it showed a wide field in the evening with a farm at the far end. The farmhouse had a light in one of the windows. The painting had been a wedding present, and my mother thought it was a bit dour and dirty-looking, so she did the frame up with some white gloss, which flaked over the years. I used to lie on the hall carpet and look at the picture of the farm for ages; the field was golden enough to run through and get lost in, and the brown daubs of farmhouse were enough to send me into a swoon of God-knows-what. I suppose it was all part of a general childhood boredom, and it meant nothing, but it seemed very heightening at the time. The painting raised my feelings up on stilts, and made me imagine myself to be part of an older world, where people lived and worked in a state of sentimental peace. All rot of course. But lovely rot. Sometimes I would come downstairs in the night and shine my torch on the painting.

At one time it seemed as if all the farms around our way had been abandoned or pulled down to make room for housing. Past railway lines and beyond the diminishing fields we would find old, dilapidated Ayrshire farmhouses with rusted tractors and old wooden drinking troughs lying about in the yard, and we’d play in them for half the summer. Cranberry Moss Farm, McLaughlin’s Farm on Byrehill, Ashgrove Farm, the Old Mains – nowadays they are all buried under concrete, except for the farm at Toddhill, which became a home for the mentally handicapped. In my youth they had been like haunted houses. There were echoes in the barns.

Those farms seemed as remote from the daily reality of our lives as the one in the wedding picture. We would never live there: computer factories and industrial cleaners would soon replace them as providers of jobs, and it was these new places, in our Ayrshire, that spoke of the lives we were supposed one day to live. We took it for granted – much too early, as it turned out – that farming was a thing of the past, a thing people did before they were sophisticated like us. We never considered the stuff on our plates; we thought the school milk came on a lorry from London. Never for a second did my friends and I think of ourselves as coming from a rural community; like all British suburban kids, we lived as dark, twinkling fallout from a big city, in our case Glasgow; and we thought carports and breezeblocks were part of the natural order.

But of course there was plenty of agriculture. It surrounded us. The farms had just been pushed out a wee bit – and wee could seem larger than it was, at least for us, shocked by the whiteness of our new buildings into thinking a thatched roof was the height of exotic. Everything changed for me with the discovery of Robert Burns: those torn-up fields out there were his fields, those bulldozed farms as old as his words, both old and new to me then. Burns was ever a slave to the farming business: he is the patron saint of struggling farmers and poor soil. But in actual fact, despite our thoughts and our recovery from our thoughts, in the early 1970s British farming was in a pretty good state. J.G.S. and Frances Donaldson’s Farming in Britain Today, published around this time, just before Britain’s entry into the Common Market, expressed the view that a beautiful balance had been struck.

Today agriculture is one of Britain’s most efficient industries. It has a controlled growth of 3.5 per cent a year, and in the last ten years its labour productivity has increased at twice the rate for industry as a whole. It supplies approximately 50 per cent of the nation’s food. Travelling through England today with its trim hedges, arable and ley farming, highly capitalised and intensively used buildings, it is hard to imagine the broken-backed appearance of yesterday.

‘Yesterday’ meant the 1920s and 1930s. But now, as I write, the situation of farming in this country is perhaps worse than it has ever been, and the countryside itself is dying. We are at a stage where it is difficult to imagine British farming surviving in any of its traditional forms; and for millions living on these islands, a long-term crisis has been turning into a terminal disaster.

Three years ago agriculture contributed £6.9 billion to the British economy, around 1 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product. It represented 5.3 per cent of the value of UK exports. The figure for 1999 was £1.8 billion. The total area of agricultural land is 18.6 million hectares, 76 per cent of the entire land surface. According to an agricultural census in June 1999, there has been a decrease of 5.3 per cent in the area given over to crops, as a result of a decrease in cereals and an increase in set-aside. According to a recent report from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff), the 1999 figures show a drop in the labour force of 3.6 per cent, the largest decrease in a dozen years. ‘These results,’ the Report continues, ‘are not unexpected given the financial pressures experienced by most sectors of the industry over the last few years.’

Farmers’ income fell by over 60 per cent between 1995 and 1999. Despite increases in production, earnings were lower in 1999 by £518 million.[2] The value of wheat fell by 6.5 per cent and barley by 5.4. Pigs were £99 million down on 1998 and lambs £126 million down; the value of poultry meat fell by £100 million or 7.4 per cent; the value of milk fell by £45 million; and the value of eggs by 10 per cent or £40 million. A giant profit gap has opened up throughout the industry: rape seed, for example, which costs £200 a ton to produce is selling for £170 per ton (including the Government subsidy); a savoy cabbage, costing 13 pence to produce, is sold by the farmer for 11 pence, and by the supermarkets for 47 pence.

Hill farmers earned less than £8000 a year on average in 1998-99 (and 60 per cent of that came to them in subsidies), but late last year, when I first started talking to farmers, many were making nothing at all, and most were heavily in debt to the bank. A suicide helpline was set up and the Royal College of Psychiatrists expressed concern at the increased number of suicides among hill farmers in particular. A spokesman for Maff said that agriculture was costing every British taxpayer £4 a week. After Germany and France, the UK makes the largest annual contribution to the Common Agricultural Policy, and yet, even before the great rise in the strength of the pound, British farmers’ production costs were higher than anywhere else in the EU, to a large extent because of the troubles of recent years.

‘Everything is a nightmare,’ one farmer told me. ‘There are costs everywhere, and even the subsidy is spent long before you receive it. We are all in hock to the banks – and they say we are overmanned, but we don’t have anybody here, just us, and children maybe, and an absolute fucking nightmare from top to bottom.’ The strong pound, the payment of subsidy cheques in euros, the BSE crisis, swine fever, and now foot and mouth disease, together with overproduction in the rest of the world’s markets – these are the reasons for the worsened situation. But they are not the cause of the longer-term crisis in British farming: local overproduction is behind that, and it is behind the destruction of the countryside too. For all the savage reductions of recent times, farming still employs too many and produces too much: even before the end of February, when diseased livestock burned on funeral pyres 130 feet high, some farmers were killing their own livestock for want of a profit, or to save the fuel costs incurred in taking them to market.

In Britain nowadays most farmers are given aid – a great deal of aid, but too little to save them – in order to produce food nobody wants to buy.[3] The way livestock subsidies work – per animal – means that there is an incentive for farmers to increase flocks and herds rather than improve the marketing of what they’ve got. As things are, subsidies save some farmers, but they are a useless way to shore up an ailing industry, except perhaps in wartime.

The evidence of what is wrong is out in the British land itself. It is to be found in the particularities of farming experience now, but also in a historical understanding of what farming has meant in this country. Farming – more even than coal, more than ships, steel, or Posh and Becks – is at the centre of who British people think they are. It has a heady, long-standing, romantic and sworn place in the cultural imagination: the death of farming will not be an easy one in the green and pleasant land. Even shiny, new, millennial economic crises have to call the past into question. How did we come to this?

In the 18th century, farmers were still struggling out of the old ways depicted in Piers Plowman, or the Bayeux Tapestry, where English farm horses are seen for the first time, bringing vegetables from the fields to the kitchen table. Jethro Tull, one of the fathers of modern agriculture, devoted himself to finding ways to increase yields – he invented the seed-drill, a machine that could sow three rows of seed simultaneously – and collected his ideas in The New Horse Houghing Husbandry: or, an Essay on the Principles of Tillage and Vegetation (1731). His ideas were widely accepted by the time he died at Prosperous Farm, near Hungerford in Berkshire, in 1741. Arthur Young, an agricultural educator and zealot of Improvement, set out in 1767 on a series of journeys through the country. A Six Months’ Tour through the North of England gives a spirited first-person account of changing agricultural conditions. ‘Agriculture is the grand product that supports the people,’ he wrote, ‘both public and private wealth can only arise from three sources, agriculture, manufactures and commerce … Agriculture much exceeds the others; it is even the foundation of the principal branches.’ But the new improvements came at a price and they changed for ever the relationship between the land and the people who tried to live by it. British peasant life was effectively over. ‘The agrarian revolution was economically justifiable,’ Pauline Gregg writes in A Social and Economic History of Britain 1760-1965, but ‘its social effects were disastrous. Scores of thousands of peasants suffered complete ruin. The small farmer, the cottager, the squatter, were driven off the soil, and their cottages were often pulled down.’ The British countryside, in the face of all improvements, and with every prospect of sharing in the coming wealth of nations, became as Goldsmith described it in ‘The Deserted Village’:

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay;
Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied.

In the spring of 1770 British cows were so disabled by starvation that they had to be carried out to the pastures. This business was known as ‘the lifting’. The General View of Ayrshire, published in 1840, records that as late as 1800 one third of the cows and horses in the county were killed for want of fodder. By the end of winter in this period, according to John Higgs’s The Land (1964), every blade of grass had been eaten and the animals were forced to follow the plough looking for upturned roots.

The social structure of the country had changed, the population had grown, the plough had been improved, the threshing machine had been invented, and crop rotation had taken hold. William Cobbett, in his Rural Rides – originally a column that appeared in the Political Register between 1822 and 1826 – captured the movements which created the basis of the farming world we know. Cobbett rode out on horseback to look at farms to the south and east of a line between Norwich and Hereford; he made an inspection of the land and spoke to the people working on it. He addressed groups of farmers on the Corn Laws, taxes, placemen, money for agricultural paupers, and the general need for reform.

In one of his columns he describes meeting a man coming home from the fields. ‘I asked him how he got on,’ he writes. ‘He said, very badly. I asked him what was the cause of it. He said the hard times. “What times?” said I; was there ever a finer summer, a finer harvest, and is there not an old wheat-rick in every farmyard? “Ah!” said he, “they make it hard for poor people, for all that.” “They,” said I, “who is they?”’ Cobbett yearned for a pre-industrial England of fine summer days and wheat-ricks, and yet his conservatism did not prevent him from becoming an evangelist of Improvement. As for ‘they’ – Cobbett knew what was meant; he later called it ‘the Thing’, and sometimes ‘the system’. He railed against everything that was wrong with English agriculture: low wages, absentee landlords, greedy clergymen, corruption; and he was prosecuted for supporting a riot by these same agricultural workers the year after he published Rural Rides. Cobbett saw how self-inflated governments could sit by and watch lives crumble. His discriminating rage has the tang of today. ‘The system of managing the affairs of the nation,’ he wrote in Cottage Economy, ‘has made all flashy and false, and has put all things out of their place. Pomposity, bombast, hyperbole, redundancy and obscurity, both in speaking and writing; mock-delicacy in manners, mock-liberality, mock-humanity … all have arisen, grown, branched out, bloomed and borne together; and we are now beginning to taste of their fruit.’

Rain was running down Nelson’s Column and Trafalgar Square was awash with visitors inspecting the lions. An American woman stepping into the National Gallery was worried about her camera lens. ‘This British weather will be the end of us,’ she said, as her husband shook out the umbrellas. In the Sackler Room – Room 34 – children with identical haircuts sat down on the wooden floor; they stared at the British weather of long ago, spread in oils with palette knives, and they, too, asked why it was always so fuzzy and so cloudy. One group sat around Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway. The instructor encouraged them to express something about the atmosphere of the picture. ‘Does it make you shiver?’ she said. ‘It’s like outside,’ one of the children replied. But most of them were interested in the hare running ahead of the train. ‘Will it die?’ one of them asked. ‘Where is it running to?’

The future. You feel the force of change in some of these weathery British pictures. Over the last few months I kept coming back to this room, and sitting here, further up from the Turners, looking at Constable’s The Cornfield. We see an English country lane at harvest time where nothing is unusual but everything is spectacular. Corn spills down an embankment, going to grass and ferns, going to pepper saxifrage or hog’s fennel, dandelion and corn poppy, down to a stream. Giant trees reach up to the dark, gathering clouds. At their foot, a small boy lies flat on his front drinking from the stream. He wears a red waistcoat and has a tear in the left leg of his trousers. A dog with a marked shadow looks up and past him with its pink tongue out. The sheep in front of the dog are making for a broken gate that opens onto the cornfield. A plough is stowed in a ditch; the farmer advances from the field; and in the distance, which stretches for miles, you see people already at work.

The picture has philosophical currency: people will still say it is an important part of what is meant by the term ‘British’ – or at any rate ‘English’. This is the country delegates sing about at the party conferences, the one depicted in heritage brochures and on biscuit tins, the corner that lives in the sentiments of war poetry, an image at the heart of Britain’s view of itself. But here’s the shock: it no longer exists. Everything in Constable’s picture is a small ghost still haunting the national consciousness. The corn poppy has pretty much gone and so have the workers. The days of children drinking from streams are over too. And the livestock? We will come to that. Let me just say that a number of the farmers I spoke to in the winter of 2000 were poisoning their own fields. The Constable picture fades into a new world of intensive industrial farming and environmental blight.

The Cornfield is said to show the path along which Constable walked from East Bergholt across the River Stour and the fields to his school at Dedham. Last October I made my way to Dedham. It was another wet day, and many of the trucks and lorries splashing up water on the M25 were heading to the coast to join a fuel blockade. On the radio a newscaster described what was happening: ‘The situation for the modern British farmer has probably never been so dire, and a further rise in the price of fuel could kill many of them off.’

Before leaving I had rung a pig farmer, David Barker, whose farm is north of Stowmarket in Suffolk. Barker is 50 years old. His family has been farming pigs in Suffolk for four generations; they have lived and worked on the present farm since 1957. He owns 1250 acres and 110 sows, which he breeds and sells at a finishing weight of 95 kilos. Among his crops are winter wheat, winter-sown barley, grass for seed production, some peas for canning, 120 acres of field beans, 30 acres of spring oats and 100 acres of set-aside.

‘Five years ago I was selling wheat for £125 a ton and now it’s £58.50,’ David Barker said. ‘I was selling pigs for £90 and now they’re down to £65. And meanwhile all our costs have doubled: fuel, stock, fertiliser. There’s hardly a farmer in East Anglia who’s making a profit. The direct payments from Europe have declined also because they’re paid out in euros.’

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[1] According to Which? magazine (28 February), this confidence should not be extended to Sainsbury’s chickens. In a survey, the magazine found 22 per cent of the store’s chickens to ‘contain unwelcome bacteria’, including salmonella. This was worse than Safeway (21 per cent) and Tesco (6 per cent).

[2] The Maff Report on Wages in Agriculture (Stationery Office, 40 pp., £11, 29 October 1999, 0 11 243054 6) asserts that employers agreed that wages were too low, especially for casual workers, and suggested that their pay be increased by 5 per cent. As the Report also notes, however, Government inspectors have had a very low success rate in prosecuting employers who pay below the agreed rate. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many growers, especially in the horticultural sector, still pay illegally low wages.

[3] Subsidies available for one animal, dependent on the size of herd and its location: a Suckler Cow Premium, £117 a year; Beef Special Premium, £84; Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowance, £69.75.

[4] On 11 January this year the European Commission formally approved a scheme by the British Government to pay £34m in compensation to arable farmers to offset the effects of the weakness of the euro against sterling since July 1999. ‘I am delighted to say that the Commission has now approved our scheme,’ the Agriculture Minister, Nick Brown, commented. ‘This is an exceptional response to very difficult trading conditions.’ Bizarrely, though, at the height of the foot and mouth epidemic, the Government began referring to this money as ‘compensation’ for animals slaughtered as a result of the outbreak. In fact, the money was earmarked to compensate farmers for the euro imbalance, and has nothing to do with foot and mouth disease.

[5] Suicide and Stress in Farmers by Keith Hawton, Sue Simkin, Aslog Malmberg, Joan Fagg and Louise Harriss (Stationery Office, 122 pp., £17.50, 11 December 1998, 0 11 322172 x) shows how far from being a joke Carruthers’s comment was. Research for the book was undertaken ‘following recognition of the apparent increased risk of suicide in farmers in England and Wales’, and what it showed was that ‘farmers contributed the largest number of suicides of all the high-risk occupational groups . . . the majority . . . faced problems connected to work (including financial problems) at the time of their death.’ Almost half these problems were classified as ‘major’ – ‘which meant there was an imminent danger of the farm being lost’.

[6] The Killing of the Countryside, discussed in the LRB by David Craig (8 May 1997), is the most convincing account available of the destruction of British rural life by postwar policymakers and corporate agribusiness. It is the source for several of the figures I use here.

[7] The Scottish Executive, Department of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, has published a series of useful documents on these and other matters relating to CAP, available at

[8] Not everyone agrees that the feeding of meat and bone-meal is an indirect result of EU intensification alone. Hugh Pennington’s letter in the LRB (25 January) points to the practice’s popularity in Britain early in the 20th century. It would probably be more accurate to see this kind of feeding as one promoted, rather, by agricultural intensification in wartime.

[9] Zed, 158 pp., £9.99, 11 December 2000, 1 85649 900 6.

[10] ‘A review of cotton production in Zimbabwe,’ the agronomist Fred Zinanga reports in Brave New Seeds, ‘shows that 70 per cent of the total crop produced annually comes from the small-scale farming sector. As these farmers can barely afford inputs, the crop is normally grown on advances from the cotton companies, which are later deducted at the end of the season. The question is, how would these small-scale farmers be able to afford the purchase of transgenic seeds, especially those with the Bt gene which have to be purchased annually? Monsanto is pushing hard to introduce this crop in Zimbabwe without going through the normal procedures of testing the technology and studying its economic compatibility with the local farming system . . . It is therefore suicidal to encourage farmers to cultivate the supposedly lucrative transgenic crops, since their seeds are beyond their means.’


[12] Our Countryside: The Future. A Fair Deal for Rural England (Stationery Office, 176 pp., £28, 28 November 2000, 0 10 149092 5,

[13] Supermarkets: A Report on the Supply of Groceries from Multiple Stores in the United Kingdom (Stationery Office, 3 vols, 1256 pp., £80, 10 October 2000, 0 10 148422 4,

[14] Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Safeway each expressed concern at the approach taken by the questioners. Safeway had ‘reservations about the way in which its answers might be presented in the report’. Sainsbury’s said that ‘the yes/no style of format requested by the CC had not always been appropriate; hence, in a small number of cases it had commented on a practice without giving a yes/no answer. The response summarised company policy in respect of each of the individual practices listed. It was not possible to check that every policy had been consistently and uniformly applied by each of the 350 or more buyers, over the last five years.’ Tesco found the approach of the questionnaire wholly unsatisfactory: ‘it said that the fundamental basis for buyer/supplier relationships was a two-way negotiation process through which both supplier and buyer strove to achieve their individual objectives. The reality was that both parties were likely to compromise in order to reach mutually acceptable agreements.’

[15] Tesco argued that higher costs resulted from promotions instigated by the producers themselves, which required a barcode change; Sainsbury’s that payments were negotiable; Somerfield that payment was not always necessary; Safeway, which did not say that it engaged in the practice, said ‘that it would not expect to pay for barcode changes on branded products, and on own-label products the packaging was paid for by the supplier so it, too, would fund the changes.’