Britain's housewives -- accustomed to paying among the lowest prices for food in developed Europe -- are the people whose interests are most at stake as the nation begins its third attempt to join the European Economic Community.
British Housewives shopping (3 shots)
Farm machinery at work (5 shots)
Sheep farm sequence (4 shots)
Cows along road
New Zealand frozen lamb being unloaded at London docks (8 shots)
CU Carcases of New Zealand lamb
French shoppers arrive at Folkstone for one-day visit (4 shots)
French visitors shopping in supermarket (4 shots)
CU Butter, cheese and meat in supermarket (4 shots)
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Background: Britain's housewives -- accustomed to paying among the lowest prices for food in developed Europe -- are the people whose interests are most at stake as the nation begins its third attempt to join the European Economic Community. The future of the United Kingdom's cheap food policy and how Britain will fit Into the EEC's agricultural arrangements will be the central issue in the negotiations which continue in Brussels on July 21st.
The low food prices that the British consumer enjoys are due to two factors -- the high efficiency of modern British farming, bolstered by Government subsidies; and the traditional imports of inexpensive meat and dairy produce from Commonwealth countries, particularly New Zealand.
British farmers are considerably more productive than their Common Market counterparts. Agriculture in the United Kingdom employs only three percent of the labour force and provides about one-half of the country's food needs. By comparison relatively higher numbers of agricultural workers are need in Europe -- 15 percent of the EEC's work force are on the farms to produce nine-tenths of Common market food requirements.
The efficiency of British farming is achieved by intensive use of machinery and technological advances - such as pesticides, scientific breeding, and new crop strains. The result has been reduction in the need for labour, and high yields of foodstuffs. British farms are generally of a larger and therefore more economic size compared with the typical Continental holding.
The cheap food policy aims to make available in the British shops products at the lowest world market prices. More than three hundred million pounds annually is paid to farmers to keep local foodstuff prices down to compete with imports.
The second factor in the policy is the import of inexpensive foods. Britain has traditional allowed imports of cheap foods, particularly from efficient food producing Commonwealth countries. The EEC policy is the opposite. Europe's farmers are protected from outside competition by high import levies. If Britain enters the EEC without negotiating concessions the Commonwealth countries which rely on the British market might suffer massive reduction in trade.
Most drastically affected is likely to be New Zealand -- Britain's "other farm" 12,000 miles away in the South pacific. The United Kingdom absorbs 90 percent of New Zealand's butter exports. 80 percent of its cheese, and about 90 percent of its lamb. The relationship of Commonwealth food producers to the EEC will be high on the Brussels agenda.
The negotiations in belgium could well mark the end of the era of cheap food in Britain. If the country entered the EEC as it now stands food price increases could range up to an estimated maximum 18 -- 26 percent according to a government White Paper published as much as 600 million pounds sterling to the EEC agricultural fund.
At the moment the difference in price with the Continent is enough to encourage French shoppers to make one-day shopping trips to Britain's South Coast towns. In a few years the cheap shopping the British enjoy could be gone if EEC countries decide not to change Continental farming policy which suffers from overproduction, high subsidies, and low farm incomes -- a reform advocated by Brussel's Commission Vice-Chairman, Dr. Sicco Mansholt.
In the meantime, British negotiators must weigh up the advantages of access to the EEC's wealthy markets with the political and economic cost of the end of the cheap food policy.