Opinion: Maybe mother knows best ...

Peter Stanford

Returning to my mother's unfounded allegations about my hopelessness with money, I would argue that there are, of course, various definitions of hopelessness. My mother, for example, would cross from one side of the street to the other in search of 'spofs' (special offers). So she would regard my purchase of expensive organic foodstuffs as proof positive of my hopelessness. I, on the other hand, would see it as watertight evidence of a higher order of prudence.

However, a report this month from the Soil Association suggests she may have a point. It shows, encouragingly, that more consumers are prepared to pay that bit extra for decent food and, hopefully, a better future for our planet. But the Soil Association also reveals that supermarkets regard such a choice as tantamount to weakness. So they are pushing up the profit margins on organic food, despite the fact that sales have risen by 10 per cent in the past year.

While prices are taking a hike at the checkouts, they are going down at the farm gate as more and more British organic production goes online.

And where UK prices are high, the wily old supermarkets shop overseas to get things cheaper. But they don't pass the savings on to us. The only spofs to be had are on battery chickens whose uncooked flesh reminds me of glue and water.

I suppose it should come as no surprise. One of the things that you quickly learn working in our sector is that for every 10 people in genuine need of your help, there will always be one putting it on a bit on the assumption that you are a do-gooding fool. In order to reach the 10, you have to put up with being taken for an occasional ride.

But supermarkets are different. We live in a consumer society. Where we spend our money often seems depressingly like our principal democratic power. So let's use it. If supermarkets exploit our ethics, then punish them by switching to the growing number of farmers' markets. I may be hopeless with money, but I guarantee that as soon as you do, the supermarket prices for organic goods will take a tumble.

- Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards.

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