A group representing small, sustainable farmers held a ‘fair deal’ protest outside the British Sugar factory in Bury St Edmunds this afternoon.
About 50 supporters of the Landworkers’ Alliance, which says its members ‘make their livelihoods from producing food, fuel and fibre using sustainable methods of production’, were joined by New York based performance artists Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping.
Alliance committee member Ollie Rodker told the protesters: “We’re here a week before the general election, but is you work in the food industry you wouldn’t know food was an issue.”
He said half the sugar consumed in the UK is from sugar beet and all of that is processed in four factories belonging to British Sugar, giving them a monopoly.
He added: “You can grow organic beet but you won’t get it processed and kept organic through the system.
“An industry like this isn’t creating jobs – bigger farms, fewer farms means fewer jobs.
“One of the main reasons for the Landworkers’ Alliance is to create a fair subsidy system. EU subsidies are npot available if you farm less than five hectares – if these guys [British Sugar] can benefit from the subsidy system, we should too.”
The LWA claims small producers are ready to increase domestic production of fruit and vegetables but farms under five hectares receive no EU grants.
British Sugar, which produces a million tonnes of sugar in the UK and an additional 500,000 tonnes of animal feed from beet pulp, 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 the UK, British Sugar also indirectly supports 13,000 rural jobs in their local communities.
“Sugar beet is an exceptional, rotational break crop and is eligible for Countryside and Environmental Stewardship points. It has lots of benefits for the farms on which it is grown and, as with any root crop good soil management removes any issues with soil quality.”