The Landworkers’ Alliance (LWA) has dubbed British Sugar, a subsidiary of Associated British Foods (ABF), as “a symbol of how broken our current food system is”, and claims that the £12.9bn company controls all of the UK’s sugar beet, meaning it gains all the profits.
Under the coalition government, the LWA said the support for small-scale producers had been diminished and had instead encouraged more large-scale industrial farms.
Sugar distributor Napier Brown has also found issue with British Sugar, after trying to open an investigation with the Competitions & Markets Authority regarding unfair competition with the firm. The case was not pursued, and Real Good Food today sold Napier Brown to for £34m to Tereos, the world’s fifth-largest sugar group.
Bob Sheppard, an LWA member from Sussex, explained: “We want to see a subsidy system that supports farmers to get away from big industrial monocultures. The future of farming is in local, healthy, sustainable agriculture and not in the sort of monopoly that British Sugar represents. You cannot grow organic sugar beet in this country and get it processed, and for the beet that is grown, all the profits end up with ABF shareholders anyway. We want the profits to go to local communities.”
In response, Colm McKay, agriculture director, British Sugar, said: “British Sugar works with 3,500 growers and council tenant farmers to produce and process sugar beet in the UK. This includes many smaller farmers who continue to grow sugar beet as it provides a positive margin for them and continues to support the economic sustainability of their farms."
In response to the LWA's claims about British Sugar representing a monopoly, McKay said: “It is anything but a monopoly. We have sugar beet growers here and right across the EU and there are companies operating in the same market place as we do.”
The LWA campaigns for the rights of small-scale producers and lobbies the UK government and European Parliament for policies that support the infrastructure and markets for small farmers.