It wouldn’t happen in France or Italy, it just wouldn’t be possible or allowed. I refer of course to the great Somerset apple heist. The news that the cider making factory in Shepton Mallet will in the future not make cider but act as a hub for the exportation of apple pulp to be sent for processing in Eire before being re-exported to the UK for consumption. It wouldn’t happen in France or Italy, not just because they would take a view that this is their cultural heritage and selling it on to corporations is not acceptable but also they take a hard headed approach to their food economy.
Shelton Mallet is going to lose over 120 jobs, in an economy already hard pressed but the wider economy of Somerset will lose the benefits of those jobs and suffer another blow to its food economy. For too long we have tended to view jobs in food and farming as being not as important as those in high-tech, service or industrial sectors, because they don’t demonstrate the economic gains those jobs are able to. This is a mistaken belief on a number of grounds.
1 – Jobs in food and farming use our natural resources to best effect. Somerset is an excellent place to grow apples, we have the climate, the terrain, the orchards. Shipping the pulp is not environmentally efficient, and only economically so if all that we are producing is pretty generic brands.
2 – This landscape is what well sell in the tourism industry. As the floods have demonstrated people come to visit for the landscape and the heritage, apples and orchards, as well as cider are part of that. Food and farming underpin the tourism industry and those jobs.
3 – For years we have failed to invest in moving the food and farming industry beyond commodity production to higher value, better legally protected status. Look at the wine industries of France and Italy, were they content to only make generic brands of wine? No, they invested in the legal and status protections that high value foods can garner. Champagne, Barolo, Chianti, etc This was not just the task of individual business but trade associations and local government.
4 – Quality of life. In the new global market place of talented people and footloose high value businesses people want to work in places with a high quality of life. A vital part of that is a high quality natural environment (tick), great places to live (tick), good services (tick) and great food.
The great pulp raid shows that we are failing in our imagination of how a great food sector can help underpin quality of life and in turn a better economy.