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September 15, 2006

If Tesco was a politician…

Michael HowardIf Tesco was a politician, who would it be? I think it’s Michael Howard. There’s something about their new commitment to locally-sourced food which reminds me of the Rory Bremner sketch that summed up Howard’s 2005 election campaign. “Don’t be afraid… I’m not going to hurt you!”

According to The Guardian Tesco is to open its regional buying offices to local producers and help them bring products to the market.

For many farmers and producers it’s a bit like sharing a bed with the Devil (or with a politician). Tesco has been the undoing of hundreds – if not thousands – of local butchers, bakers and greengrocers, such as in my home town of Tetbury where we’re left with one butcher, one baker and no greengrocer. Previously we had a total of six.

So should we be congratulating Tesco for its new ‘community’ initiative, or suspect that it’ll just be a niche initative which won’t undo the harm their supermarkets have done to locally owned retailers in the past decade?

From an environmental point of view, anything which reduces ‘food miles’ has to be a good thing. It makes no sense to drag carrots from Belgium when there’s perfectly good ones 500 yards from a Tesco supermarket. But Tesco’s plan is for “regional buying centres”. In theory, this means local produce made in Gloucestershire will have to be sent to Birmingham or Bristol, only to be sent straight back again. It’s not exactly progress. The way forward is for individual store managers to have local buying power, but that’s not the way supermarkets work.

Friends of the Earth have said they fear this may be just a ‘token gesture’, and I’m inclined to agree. While the environmental benefits may be welcome, this will do little to make our High Streets diverse and locally-owned. And it’s not exactly a great victory for David over Goliath.

As Michael would say: “Are you eating what we’re eating?”


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