By Marie-Claire Jennequin
In the past three months alone, food inflation has rocketed by a staggering 16.6% – the highest ever recorded. Many everyday staples such as milk, eggs and butter have increased even more exponentially. This means an extra €1,000 on average in yearly food costs for most families.
Struggling families are being increasingly put to the pin of their collar trying to survive. With more than a quarter of working-class families unable to consistently provide proper and regular meals for their children, too many are living on the breadline – many without the bread. In fact this is a global problem: in 2022 at least 258 million people in 58 countries faced “acute food insecurity”, which is defined as hunger so severe that it poses an immediate threat to people’s livelihoods and lives.
An Oxfam report published earlier this year found that 60-80% of food price increases in Ireland and other European countries were a direct result of profiteering. Many large supermarket chains (unacceptably) refuse to publish their Irish profits. There are a couple of exceptions to this. The most recent figures published by Aldi found that its Irish profits were 71% higher than its British profits. Irish company Musgraves raked in more than €110 million in profits last year. Clearly price-gouging is a major factor here, which is abominable.
Under capitalism food like everything else is commodified – produced not to be eaten, but for profit. This process of taking more from nature and human labour than it gives back makes capitalist production wholly unsustainable. Currently, most of Ireland’s agricultural land is used for pasture (80%), with only 8% allocated to cereals, fruit and vegetables. This is because dairy farming is far more lucrative than other food production, which can be very labour intensive. As long as profit is the driving force behind agricultural production the earth will continue to degrade and people will go hungry.
The government’s tokenistic measures over the last few months are simply not enough to avert this crisis. Miniscule wage increases for workers fall abysmally short of what is required to even meet the rising cost of inflation – while big business profits, real wages fell by 3.3% in 2022.
We need action now to deal with this crisis. Under the Consumer Protection Act, the government has the power to introduce price controls. This should be implemented immediately – especially for essential goods and staples. Furthermore, need a windfall tax on the major profits being made by the big supermarket chains.
But to end their profiteering at our expense these companies should be taken into public ownership, with food production being planned to meet the needs of society and the environment.