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SUSTAINABILITY Fair prices and maximum wages

Outdoor Living
Cartoon character eating the earth

Fair prices and maximum wages

Food Matters
Chris Brown

The price of food in the shops is currently cheap, but this is unlikely to continue for much longer. Just 50 years ago about a half of peoples’ take-home pay was spent on food, and now that figure is estimated to be only around a quarter. But have we done the right thing by driving down the price of food? Would we be better off if we paid more for it?
The current Global system of moving foodstuff around the world for profit is an all-too risky business. Aside from factors out of our control that could affect the availability of the supplies we import (earthquakes, floods, strikes, wars, fuel shortages etc), paying tiny wages to those who do the growing for us so that we can eat cheaply and conveniently is just not fair. We wouldn’t like it to be the other way round would we? We wouldn’t want to work long long hours in harsh conditions for lousy pay so that those in other countries can dine cheaply. We should value food carefully, not so that it’s priced cheaply, but that it’s priced correctly. This will mean paying a living wage to those who produce it.
Food needs to be provided in a way that doesn’t use up the world’s resources to transport it. The very cornerstone of sustainability is that we leave the land the same condition (or better) than we found it, and on this point we are failing miserably. As the recent tragic events in Japan, where a tsunami swept away everything in its path, have shown, the legacy of a broken down nuclear power plant, throbbing and leaking its dangerous effects on land and sea, is terrible. It’s our responsibility to do all we can to reduce our impact on a polluted planet by finding ways, not to produce more demands for energy, but to use less of it.

A fair price for food

As worldwide demand for clean food grows louder, Ireland’s food agency, An Bord Bia, should close up its offices in Shanghai and other foreign out posts and set up at home here in Maigheo and in other counties, and set about creating employment, not in offices but out on the land. Food is an essential to life, and if it is to be consumed in Mayo it should be grown in Mayo, and all minds should be focused on ways to achieve this.
Starting in the classroom and continuing in colleges, research into the growing, distributing and the trading of locally produced foods must surely be our main focus. After all, whether it’s pot-holed or smooth, you can’t eat the road!
If we are serious about moving local food production forward and paying those employed in this vital sector a proper wage for their labour, it’s important to get the right balance between wages and the price of food, so that we can all afford to feed ourselves.

A fair price for labour
The minimum wage in Ireland currently stands at €7.65 for an hour’s work – soon to be €8.65 if the current government reverses the previous government’s cut, as it has committed to doing, by the end of May. If people are expected to toil for this amount, I feel that we should also have a maximum wage. If, for example, €45 per hour (a fabulous wage, more than five times that of the €8.65 minimum) was the maximum wage and everything earned above this amount went for investment to common good causes, think how much we could achieve.
I know city bankers and the like wont like the sound of this, but they were greedy people and look at the mess they have got us into! We live in a fragile world that needs all the help it can get; a more level playing field where wages are concerned is surely needed.

Next time Selling food

Chris Brown is a food producer in Louisburgh. He has a particular interest in food miles and buying local.