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Maple Street Co-op News Articles of Particular Relevance

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From Maple Street Coop News, October/November 2004 issue
Published by Maple Street Co-op, 37 Maple Street, Maleny Qld 4552
Tel 5494 2088, email maplest.coop@serv.net.au
website http://www.maplestreetco-op.com.au

Taking a Stand to Save Maleny

by Lori Sturtz

When I was nine, Mr Potato Head (the Hasbro toy) got a plastic body.  Up until then, we used a real spud for the body.  Then in the 1970s, his body doubled in size.

Today, just like Mr Potato Head, our food has also become plastic and supersized.  We can thank the supermarkets who fuel this agribusiness for the loss of nutritious, real food.  Aisle after aisle at any supermarket is full of this highly processed, refined, plastic non-food.  It's what keeps the pharmaceutical companies in business, and we the consumers pay twice:  once when we buy this garbage, and again when our health fails due to poor diet.

"The Fresh Food People" is just a clever advertising slogan, nothing more.  Woolies is really in the business of selling processed foods because it has much bigger margins on these items than on real, whole foods.  Ready-made meals are one of the biggest cons around.  They are neither nutritious nor cheap.  They are full of false claims and can be very unhealthy.  The same meals can be made much more cheaply at home with real ingredients and are much healthier.

Woolworths and Coles are now setting up in areas they would have considered unacceptable just a few years ago.  It's all about market domination and control.  They are funding massive promotional activities and advertising campaigns, but making relatively little headway for the money they're spending.  It seems that the manufacturers are underwriting the increased profits for these chains.  The supermarket giants are already moving into the petrol and liquor markets and are now pushing for a piece of the pharmacy trade.

Residents continue their protests

Maleny may be the next small town to experience this supermarket domination, thanks to the Queensland Planning and Environment Court's decision on Tuesday 14 September.  The Court decided in favour of the Woolworths site developer, Cornerstone, and against the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (NRM&E).  This dispute was all about the exact location of the high bank of Obi Obi Creek.  The NRM&E maintained that Cornerstone had encroached onto state property when its contractors, the Deen Brothers, removed certain trees from the site below the high bank of the creek.  Cornerstone disagreed, and so did the presiding judge.

Judge Rackemann declared that the supermarket construction would not intrude into the Obi Obi or interfere with the course of the creek during normal flows.  In other words, according to him there is no high bank and therefore the creekbank land does not come under NRM&E control.  This is a major setback for Maleny and the rest of Queensland, because it could allow other developers to build on waterways regardless of the environmental cost.

Members of the Platypus Group and Maleny community are more determined then ever to continue their protest against Woolies.  Shouts of "Not On Our Creek", "Not In Our Town" and "Woolies Won’t Win" can be heard throughout Maleny, along with the familiar "We Won't Shop There" catchcry.

More than 300 residents rallied at Tesch Park on Sunday 26 September to hear speakers including the Platypus Group's Jon Woodlands, Democrats Senator John Cherry, and the Gubbi Gubbi and Jinaburra spokesperson Ms Terri-Anne Goodreid.

Jon Woodlands said he thought it was time for Cornerstone to meet with Caloundra City Council and the Gubbi Gubbi to discuss the possible buyback of the site by this Aboriginal group for the community.  Senator Cherry said he thought the Federal and State governments as well as Caloundra City Council owe Maleny an apology for their lack of action to protect the Obi Obi site.  He also told the crowd they should feel very proud of their efforts to stop Woolies and that the campaign is attracting international interest.  Senator Cherry said:  "Legislation must be beefed up so that communities can have some input into their own destiny."  He also mentioned that in the UK there is a huge movement against the expansion of these big retail chains into small towns.

A report prepared in 2002–03 by the New Economics Foundation (UK) examined the so-called "Ghost Town Britain" phenomenon:  "Suppose a supermarket opens on the outskirts of a town and half the residents start to do one-third of their shopping there.  These people still do two-thirds of their shopping in the town centre, while the other half of the population continues to do all its shopping in the town centre.  Although all the residents still patronise the town centre, its retail revenue drops about 16.7% -- enough to start killing off shops.  This is a perverse market dynamic; a loss to the entire community that not a single person would have wanted.  It is also self-reinforcing:  once the downtown starts to shut down, people who preferred to shop there have no choice but to switch to the supermarket.  What begins as a seemingly harmless ripple becomes a powerful and destructive wave."

We should be able to limit supermarket developments through some kind of mandatory economic and environmental impact assessment prior to any building permission being granted.

How supermarkets affect our lives

The big supermarket players don't care about people; they only care about profit as they squeeze out all competitors.  And the greater the distance between management and labour, the greater the workplace alienation and thus the more meaningless our lives become.  Big supermarkets devalue the workforce, employing mostly casual workers, and they force all their employees to conform to a dreadful uniformity.

The money spent at these big supermarkets is responsible for the demise of local communities, the poisoning of vast pieces of land and the death of sustainable agriculture.  These big retailers, with their "Pile it High, Price it Low" philosophy, influence and control the way we grow, buy and eat our food -- and when we shop at their stores, we are all implicated in this process.  They are shaping our landscape as well as our health due to the modern consumerist fast-food mentality.

The current low prices of supermarket fruit and vegetables are the result of severe price-cutting at the farmer's end.  This leads to more land being degraded for fast profits, with no consideration given to future sustainability.  These huge factory farms cannot support organic and GE/GM-free food production.

However, consumer demand and customer awareness are increasing for healthier foods grown under sustainable conditions.  For example, Whole Foods Market is the fastest growing food retailer in the United States.  It sells organic and GE-free whole foods, and price is not an issue with the people who shop there.  Sales of organic food in the US are rising at 20% a year, and the stockmarket has noticed.  Whole Foods Market is beating the supermarkets by "piling it low and pricing it high", according to John Gapper in The Australian (17 September 2004).

The threat from farm to table

Still, small farms continue to disappear around the world as a result of massive agribusiness concerns being driven by the big supermarkets.  These huge corporations are often owned by multinational cartels and run their businesses like factories, with scant regard for integrity of the land, animal welfare or product quality.  This huge, mechanised, chemical-intensive, corporation-dominated agricultural production system is destroying the small-farm model of rural sustainability.

Small farms devote much more of their area to woodlands and keep nearly twice as much of their land for soil-improvement uses, including cover crops and green manures.  They contain a multitude of biodiversity compared to modern plantations with their ecological wastelands.

However, the globalised food production system is at odds with this small-farm sustainability model.  Out-of-season fruit and vegetables are transported great distances by air and road, which can mean a family's meal may have travelled a few times around the world before it gets to the table.  This means huge amounts of energy wasted and a great environmental cost.  Also, pesticides such as DDT, banned in the West and sold to the Third World, still make it back to our tables.  Diseases are also easily spread from country to country.  Poor wages and slave labour help to produce this food more cheaply than our own farmers can compete with, and so everyone is the loser except for the supermarkets.

Support your local producers and suppliers

When we lose our small independent shops, we also lose our local character -- the very thing that makes us distinct from other places.  These shops hold our neighbourhoods together.  Supermarkets cannot replace that spontaneous friendly chat that comes free of charge when you shop with local small businesses.  They cannot replace that one-on-one contact that can enrich our lives.

"Retailtainment" is now an integral part of the supermarket shopping experience in countries like the UK and the US.  Utilising pizza spinners and trained actors as store greeters, supermarkets are trying to combat the alienation that shoppers feel among the artificial bright lights and the endless highly stacked aisles.  They even have "singles nights" to try to "sex up" their image.  This cheesy, fake personal service is orchestrated to make customers feel like they are more than just the profits that they really represent.

Supermarkets have created generations of consumers who have no food knowledge.  They only know how to prepare microwave-ready meals.  The local butcher, baker and fish vendor are disappearing, and with them go so much knowledge about food preparation and cooking.

So, support your local suppliers that support your local producers.  When you buy organic whole foods, you are buying a sustainable future.  Stand up and fight for the right to choose what you want in your town.  Help protect your local environment and waterways.  Take an interest in where your food comes from and support farmers' actions to end their exploitation by supermarket giants.  Boycott supermarket chains and large food manufacturers.  Sign up to anti-supermarket campaigns or start your own local campaign.  You can put pressure on governments to increase the production of organic food and to control supermarket dominance.

According to Lucy Michaels of Corporate Watch in the UK, "We need strong government legislation to curb the power of the supermarkets, prevent the exploitation of suppliers and the destruction of small retailers and the attendant social and environmental costs".

We need a Woolies or Coles in Maleny like we need another hole in Mr Potato Head!

References: 
• Bruce Atkinson, "Drake slams 'corporate greed' of Coles, Woolies", FOODweek, 24 September 2004
• Joanna Blythman, Shopped:  The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets, Fourth Estate, UK, 2004
• Felicity Lawrence, Not on the Label, Penguin, 2004
• Lucy Michaels and the Agriculture Project at Corporate Watch, "What’s Wrong With Supermarkets", 4th edition, 2004,
http://www.corporatewatch.org.uk
• George Monbiot's website, http://www.Monbiot.com
• "Supermarkets:  The Naked Truth" (feature), The Ecologist, September 2004
• The Range News, 16, 23, 30 September 2004

From Maple Street Co-op News,
October/November 2004
Published by Maple Street Co-op,
37 Maple Street, Maleny, Qld 4552,
tel 07 5494 2088, email maplest.coop@serv.net.au
website http://www.maplestreetco-op.com.au

Back to Main Maple Street Co-op Index Page