The Ghost of Watt Tyler

Watt Tyler was one of the leaders of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt. He was a slain by the King’s supporters after drinking a jug of beer “in a very rude and disgusting fashion before the King's face.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


This week a good friend - who sometimes lets his hatred of green toffs like Prince Charles get in the way of the truth - claimed supermarkets provide cheap food for the masses.

Sadly this is a myth peddled by - yes you guessed it - supermarkets.

In fact consumers pay three times: once in the shop, a second time in taxes through direct subsidies to farmers, and finally indirectly in taxes cleaning up the mess left by reckless industrial agriculture and subsidising the transport infrastructure supermarkets depend on.

It has, for example, cost the government over a billion pounds to install the equipment necessary to remove nitrates and pesticides from rivers and lakes.

The cost to human health is also considerable. Supermarkets like Asda and Tesco oppose the Food Standards Agency’s front of pack traffic light nutrition labels because they make most of the their money from processed food high in sugar fat and salt (there is, after all, only so much you can charge for an apple or a potato).

The myth of cheap food arises from the practice of selling some items like bread and milk below cost price. However it is often cheaper to buy other items from smaller local stores.

My local Turkish shop sells fruit and veg at lower prices than the nearby Morrisons.

Supermarkets exist to make a profit - not to help the masses. Only regulation can ensure consumers (and the environment and wider society) get a good deal.