9 February 2007

Globalisation comes home to roost

Poor old Bernard Matthews. Not so bootiful as he used to be. First Jamie Oliver decimates his profits by exposing his turkey twizzlers as deep-fried guts and gizzards and now his loathsome farming practices are coming home to roost--oh go on! Forgive me a few bad puns. We gave up eating all so-called food proceeding from the Bernard Matthews empire a few years ago when, as I opened a packet claiming to be filled with Bernard Matthews wafer-thin turkey ham slices, my son asked 'who farted?'

I had difficulty following events this morning as the news bulletins jumped about between Hungary and Turkey. I was feeling hungry myself and blame the shortage of blood sugar in the brain for my lack of lucidity, but I really did begin to wonder whether Bernard also has a production facility in Turkey. Well in this era of globalisation where nobody knows where anything is and companies count for more than countries you can hardly blame me for the confusion.

This is only one of my many struggles with the food distribution system globalisation has bequeathed us. Following the appalling episode of foot-and-mouth it was clear that transporting animals around the world just to kill and eat them is not only cruel but also dangerous to public health. It has always amazed me that friends and family find it more shocking that I know the source of my meat by name than that they cannot even tell me which country theirs was produced in. Dulcie has been slaughtered recently and should be turning up in sausages soon.

The shame around the factory production and slaughter of sentient creatures is made evident by the use of the euphemism 'cull' when what is meant is kill. Not to mention the curious public outcry about the deaths of the innocents from the latest factory-farming disease and the pseudo-ritualistic pyres, when these animals were created in factories only because they were going to be killed to be eaten. Where is the moral difference between killing and cremating them en masse, and killing and roasting them in our individual ovens?

This is to say nothing of the wasteful production of unnecessary carbon dioxide our food distribution system brings with it. For an excellent critique of that you can read Caroline Lucas and Colin Hines's most recent report. Caroline's adage on the transport of biscuits from Germany to the UK and back again is the best indictment of the global food system. Watching the lorries moving past each other on a European motorway she asked 'Why don't they just swap recipes'?

Like the guy who enjoyed shaving so much he bought the company, such strong identification between an individual and a brand, the corporate cult of personality, brings its own dangers. Bernard was never as bootiful as he thought, and now his face and the festering turkeys he is still selling as safe to eat are forever melded, leaving a most unpleasant taste.


  1. My childhood memories include New Zealand Lamb, Anchor Butter and Danish Rashers - no problems then.

    What has changed?

  2. Good point! Any answers? In fact, I still trust all these brands. I am just a fool? Is it just a question of scale? Has the increased pressure for profits led to corner-cutting and reduction in quality? I think we bought those brands because they were better, not because they were cheaper

  3. One thing that has changed [which may give a clue] is that back then the lamb and rashers were bought in the local butchers, the butter and groceries were bought in the local Co-op, who also delivered the milk, and bread [and penny buns, yum] came from the local bakery. We also had tea, coffee, french apples, oranges, bananas ……nothing wrong with international trade. So, what exactly is Globalisation?

    If international competition and supermarkets are driving down prices [at the cost of quality, maybe?] why do we still have inflation? Perhaps the “real” [whole] cost is more than we think?

  4. I will think about this. Globalisation is about corporate power and the extraction of value into the money circuits and away from the real economy. I haven't got to the bottom of inflation yet, but generally speaking it is a problem for rich people, with assets, not poor people.

  5. Sorry, don’t understand that!
    To me Globalisation is about the ability to shift production to where it is most cost efficient and it can now be done worldwide. That’s why we still trust New Zealand Lamb and Anchor Butter coz if you shift it to somewhere else it ain’t the same product. But my electric kettle is the same product and brand regardless of where it is made.
    I thought inflation was a problem for those on fixed incomes. It’s all relative and anyone who keeps up the pace is OK. Back in the 70s inflation reduced my mortgage payments from 50% to 20% of my income within a few years. House price inflation is preventing young people from getting onto the ladder. Inflation hits the less well off but the rich seem to deal with it OK to me?????