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23 January 2003
Northern Foods plc and Lord Haskins
Is Lord Haskins a suitable person to be the senior advisor to
Government on agriculture?
The relationship between Northern Foods Plc
(a large UK food producer) and Lord Haskins is described in this
article. The following is reproduced with permission from a Corporate
report of 11 January 2002.
An update of some of the
activities of Northern Foods is given at the end of the report.
Corporate Watch Report, 11 January 2002
Products and Projects
Who, where, how much?
Influence and Lobbying
Northern Foods is one of the largest food manufacturers
in the UK having made its name and fortune through practically inventing
the supermarket ready meal. At the helm, has been Lord Christopher
Haskins, one of Tony Blairs closest advisors, steering British
agriculture towards US-style integrated agribusiness, and British
food consumption towards highly processed unhealthy preservative-packed
food. Over the last forty years, Haskins has built this company
up from a small north of England-based dairy into a giant food conglomerate.
Industry area: Food processing and manufacturing,
especially chilled foods. Besides producing products under its own
labels such as Ski yoghurts and Dalepak, Northern Foods produces
supermarket own-labelled products.
Market share/ Importance:
Northern Foods employs 22,000 people, has annual
sales of £1.4 billion and pre-tax profits of £104m .
It is in a very strong financial position based on its secure relationship
with the major food retailers. It reported high sales during the
second quarter of 2001, which were up 8% from the same period in
2000. Sales to its largest Supermarket customers (Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys,
Safeways and Marks and Spencer), have risen 10% .
Despite these high sales, Northern Foods also
reported lower profit margins during 2001 as a result of inflation
and disruption to restructuring of cake and fresh chilled
dairy products operations, which are in the process of being closed
down. These have been recouped over the year through 1-1.5%
price rises. There has also been a 1.5million share buy back programme
with shares purchased at 149.3p. Northern Foods also saw its
share prices fluctuate in the early part of 2001 because of foot
and mouth disease.
Its top competitors are Unilever, Hazlewood Foods
(owned by Greencore), Hillsdown Holdings, Geest and Uniq Plc.
Northern Foods, originally Northern Dairies,
was founded by Alec Horsley on Spalding Moor, East Yorkshire, in
The history of Northern foods is intricately
bound up with its retiring Chairman, Lord Chris Haskins who joined
the company in 1962 when it was still Northern Dairies, after marrying
the bosss daughter, Gilda Horsley. After helping to run a
small dairy in Belfast, he joined the main board in 1966, aged 29.
According to a recent interview in the Sunday
Times, the big breakthrough for the business and for Haskins was
when he found himself on a plane next to Marks & Spencer (M&S)
executive who was setting up a new store in Belfast. Marks and Spencer
is a UK-based upmarket own-label supermarket chain. This executive
was cajoled into buying milk for the store from Northern foods,
a contract that mushroomed into food sales to M&S now worth
£500m a year. Northern foods added yoghurt deliveries to the
milk and then created the first fresh trifle for M&S, which
- in food manufacturing terms - was the equivalent of mapping the
human genome. "We lost a fortune on that trifle over the years
but we really impressed M&S with our commitment."
The trifle was the forerunner of Northern's American-style
pizza for Tesco, its Seafresh (!) salmon in watercress sauce for
Waitrose, Gammon and parsley snack pot for M&S and the rest
of the convenience foods that underpin its success. See Corporate
Crimes section Selling unhealthy overpriced food. This
unique business relationship with Marks and Spencer is the secret
to Northern Foods success. Its strategy since has been to buy up
and consolidate M&S suppliers, as well as innovating to impress.
In 1986, Northern Foods built the most advanced food factory in
Europe, Fenlands Food Factory, at a cost of eight million pounds,
and dedicated it entirely to M&S.
By 1986, Haskins had risen apparently without
hitch to be chairman of Northern Foods. In fact, not all has gone
smoothly. Moves into the US agribusiness market, through acquiring
Bluebird Inc. and Keystone Foods Corporation in the early Eighties,
ended in disaster. A hog processor he bought in America turned
out to be a near-Mafia type of business'. And the demerger
in 1998 of Express Dairies, its milk operation, left Northern stronger,
but Express's margins (and its share price) have been forced down
by over competition in the dairy sector. See Corporate Crimes
Section Exploiting small farmers.
In the three years since ditching Express Dairies,
Northern Foods has refocused as a supplier of convenience foods.
Supplying the major retailers ensures a secure income, whilst they
build up their empire of branded UK and Irish producers. In recent
years, as Nestle has gone on to concentrate on developing global
brands, Northern Foods have acquired their cast-offs, such as Foxs
Products and projects
Pork Pies, Scotch Eggs and Chinese Take-aways
Northern Foods owns seventeen operating businesses
and more than 50 sites.
It operates in eight product areas: meat and savoury
products; recipe dishes; speciality breads; bread-based snacks;
cakes and puddings; biscuits and frozen foods.
It produces food under brand names Fox's biscuits
and confectionery, Ski Yoghurt, Eden Vale, Munch Bunch, Hollands
pies, Goodfellas pizzas, Dalepak, Ross, Pork Farms Bowyers, Paynes,
and Matthew Taylor Puddings.
It also produces own-label food for Sainsbury's,
Tesco, Asda and Marks and Spencer. Nearly 30 per cent of their turnover
is based on supplying Marks and Spencer with around 600 lines.
In 2000, it consolidated its position as one of the leading suppliers
to the Supermarkets by acquiring a 40% stake in Solway Foods for
£16 million. Solway is a major supplier of own label sandwiches,
sushi, added value salads and salad meals.
Northern Foods also produce buns for Burger King,
Farley's Rusks under licence and Batchelors Baked Beans in Ireland.
Northern Foods also owns Fletcher's Bakery, Park
Cakes, The Pizza Factory, Smiths Flour Mills, Convenience Foods
Ltd, Northern Foods Grocery Group Ltd.
It part owns FW Farnsworth Ltd, Green Isle, an
Irish subsidiary which trades under the name Goodfella's and recently
acquired Lacemont Ltd, and Cavaghan and Gray Group Ltd.
Lord Haskins claims that 80% of Northern Foods
products are sourced in the UK.
They own NFT - one of the largest UK chilled food
distributors. They also operate a dedicated transport operation
See section on subsidiaries for more
Who, Where, How Much? 
a) OwnershipNorthern Foods plc
St Stephen's Square
Hull HU1 3XG
Telephone: 01482 325432
Fax: 01482 226136
Can be found at www.northernfoods.com under 'financial information'.
Major Holders of Stock:
Franklin Resources Inc - 11.86%
Sprucegrove Investment Management Ltd - 5%
- NM Rothschild and Sons Ltd.
- Hoave Govett Ltd and Cazenove & Co
Tracy Pocklington and Helen Bray 
Board of Directors
Company Secretary - Julian Wild
Past President of Hull & Humber Chamber
Non Executive Director
- Helen Alexander
British Telecom Non-Executive Director
Chief Executive of The Economist Group
Member of the Ethics Committee of University College London Hospital
Non Executive Director
- Colin Dyer
Director of Worldwide Retail Exchange
Former Chief executive of Courtaulds Textiles plc
Finance Director -
Non-executive director of Kingston Communications (Hull) PLC
Salary plus benefits: £263,873
Share options: £240,259
Deputy Chairman -
Chairman of Christian Salvesen PLC, Elementis plc and Control Risk
Group Holdings plc.
Chairman of the Asia Pacific Advisory Committee of the Royal Institute
of International Affairs
Chief Executive -
Previously held a number of senior posts at United Biscuits
Salary plus benefits: £367,069
Share options: £468,211
designate - Peter Blackburn
Peter Blackburn, former head honcho at Nestle UK, has been appointed
a non-executive Director and Chairman designate of Northern Foods
plc with effect from 13 November 2001. A native Yorkshire-man, he
will succeed Haskins as non-executive Chairman early in 2002. He
retired in June 2001 as Chairman and Chief Executive of Nestlé
UK and is currently head of UK industry lobby group, the Food and
Drink Federation .
A graduate of Harvard Business School, he has
worked in the food industry since joining Quality Street manufacturers,
Mackintosh & Son in 1966 .
President of the Incorporated Society of British
Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants.
Fellow of the Institute of Grocery Distribution .
Peter Blackburn has recently been exposed as another
friend to small farmers in the Lord Haskins mould.
The Guardian illustrated his part in persuading the British
government not to vaccinate livestock during the Foot and Mouth
disease crisis. Vaccination is the modern response to food and mouth
disease, although it does entail the loss of a countrys disease-free
status i.e. it cannot export affected products for twelve months.
Heat-treated meat off the bone can, however, be exported. In April
2001, the UK government was about to introduce a limited vaccination
programme, but Blackburn and the National Farmers Union managed
to force a complete turnaround in policy. This was because Nestle's
profits would be damaged by the loss of exports of powdered milk.
As a result, millions of uninfected animals were culled, burned
and buried as part of a positively mediaeval and definitely unnecessary
(retiring 2002) - Baron Haskins of Skidby
Chris Haskins joined Northern Foods in 1962 when it was still known
as Northern Dairies. He became a director in 1967 and deputy chairman
in 1974. He was executive chairman between 1987 and 1998. He became
Non-Executive Chairman in 1998 doing one day a week at Northern
Lord Haskins currently lives in Skidby, East Riding,
Yorkshire where he owns an 800 acre wheat and barley farm. He has
three sons and two daughters.
He was made a life peer in June 1998 by Tony Blair.
Current Direct Corporate Interests :
Non-executive Director, Express Dairies plc
Non-executive Director, JSR Farms Ltd
Non-executive Director, Northern Foods plc
See Corporate Crimes section for more information
on these companies.
In 1998 he got a 16% pay rise from Northern Foods,
to £208,479 (plus share options than gained him £380,388).
He holds shares in Northern Foods that were worth £3.28 million
in 1998. He also received a £104,000 salary from Express Dairies
(and held shares worth £820,000 in 1999) .
Salary plus benefits:
b) Northern Foods Organisational
By all accounts, Northern Foods is a fairly progressive
employer. It is a member of the Race for Opportunity, working to
promote ethnic minority businesses. It is part of the Employers
for Work - Life balance scheme, and a case study on their
website highlights progressive policies like flexi-time, job-sharing,
paternity leave, and the on-site nursery and holiday play scheme.
One former management employee confirmed this, Northern Foods
is a nice company to work for, and Haskins is an honourable man
who cares about his employees. 
It is also working on energy reduction and waste
minimisation policies with DETR, and the Food and Drink Federation
on a Climate Change levy.
Northern Foods spent £441,000 on charitable
donations during 2000 . This funded local projects, as well
as Oxfam and One World Action. This, of course, is fairly ironic,
considering the fact that industrial agriculture is destroying food
security, and creating hunger and poverty world- wide.
They also fund a scholarship at Nottingham University
for an undergraduate degree in food sciences .
For more info and addresses see: www.northern-foods.co.uk/graduates/where_we_are.htm
George Payne &
Paynes supply chocolate and sugar confectionery,
along with instant flavoured teas. It was acquired in the summer
of 1998. Employing approximately 180 people at its manufacturing
facility in Croydon, their well-known products include the Poppets
and Just Brazils chocolates and Lift instant lemon tea.
In May 2001 Northern Foods acquired the Fox's
and 'XXX' confectionery brands from Nestlé, together with
associated manufacturing facilities in Leicester.
Batchelors, acquired in 1986, employs over 270
people at its plants in Dublin and Athy, Co Kildare. It is brand
leader in the highly competitive baked beans and processed peas
market in the Republic of Ireland. The company also enjoys similar
success with its Squeez and Amigo fruit juice ranges. This company
has nothing to do with Batchelors Soup and packet foods which is
owned by Campbell Soups.
NFT is one of the largest chilled distribution
businesses in the UK. It employs over 1,200 people and state of
the art IT to provide nation-wide primary distribution for Northern
Foods companies and other food manufacturers, and contract warehousing
and distribution services for major retailers, as well as manufacturers
including Cargill owned chicken factory, Sun Valley . Its 250
articulated vehicles cover over half a million kilometres each week.
Its website has handy maps of all Northern Foods distribution depots.
They are involved with Business in the Community
and Gerry Sutton, Commercial Director of NFT Distribution is on
the DTIs Foresight Panel on Food Chain and Crops for Industry.
In June 2001, Bolsover District Council instigated
legal proceedings against NFT distribution for breaches of Health
and Safety legislation.
Set up in 1976, Dalepak are another pioneer in
fatty salty processed foods. With factories at Leeming Bar and Hull
(Dalepak Bakery), these sites produce grillsteaks, burgers and pastry
products under the own labels of leading retailers including Tesco,
Sainsbury's, Safeway and Asda. They also produce pastry products
under licence for Heinz. They also produce the Dalepak and Ross
brands. Also part of this group is Emile Tissot Foods, in Telford,
manufacturing frozen ready meals for pubs, hotels and restaurants.
Green Isle Food Group
Green Isle is the leading Irish frozen food company,
and a fast growing supplier to major UK retailers. Employing over
1,000 people, it produces a range of pizzas, pastry products and
fish lines under the Goodfella's, Green Isle and Donegal Catch brands,
as well as retailers' own labels. Billcrest Products and Elduff
Investments are also part of this group.
Employing over 1,400 people, Uttoxeter based,
Elkes Biscuits, produces a wide range of cheap sweet and semi sweet
biscuits mainly under retailers' own labels. In addition, Elkes
manufactures Farley's rusks under contract.
Fox's Biscuits, which has two large factories
at Batley, West Yorkshire and Kirkham near Blackpool, became part
of Northern Foods in 1977. It currently employs over 1,900 people
and manufactures a wide range of premium quality biscuits, with
brands including Rocky, Classic and Echo. It also produces a range
of own-label products, principally for Marks and Spencer and other
top high street retailers along with other major high street retailers.
In addition to its substantial and buoyant home trade, Fox's has
significant export business, and a wide range of lines under the
Fox's label is now shipped world-wide.
Vanderheul, the small Dutch biscuit manufacturer
acquired in 1993, supplies retailers in the low countries and Germany
and produces a number of Continental lines for the Fox's assortment
Eden Vale, acquired in 1992, is the UK's leading
manufacturer of fresh chilled dairy products. It has factories at
Cuddington and Minsterley employing over 600 people, producing yogurts,
desserts, cream, cottage cheese and fromage frais under the Ski,
Munch Bunch and Eden Vale brands and under retailers' own labels.
Smiths Flour Mills
Acquired in 1972, Smiths Flour Mills employs over
160 people at its three mills, supplying wheat and other flours
to Northern Foods companies and other major food manufacturers plus
a growing number of ethnic baking concerns.
Rawmarsh Foods is based near Rotherham, employs
over 300 people and produces desserts exclusively for Marks and
Matthew Walker joined the group in 1992 and employs
over 200 people at its Derby-based site. It is the UK's market leader
in Christmas puddings and supplies its high quality products to
all retail multiples in this country, and exports puddings around
the world. It also enjoys great success with its own brand.
Park Cakes employs in excess of 1,600 people at
its sites in Oldham and Bolton. It is the UK's leading supplier
of own label cakes to the major retailers, producing a range of
ambient, chilled and frozen foods. Other companies include West
country Frozen Foods and TodayUltra Ltd.
Gunstones Bakery and La Baguette Doree
Acquired in 1971, Gunstones Bakery is a dedicated
Marks and Spencer plant producing a wide range of products including
sandwiches, sushi and speciality bakery lines, and employs over
1,600 people and its two sites in Dronfield and Barnsley.
Fletchers Bakery, Grain DOr and Kara
Fletchers Bakeries was acquired in 1999. Employing
over 600 people, producing a wide range of fresh and frozen bread,
rolls and speciality bakery products including burger buns, doughnuts
and scones, it operates from a modern and well-invested bakery in
Sheffield. Customers include most of the UK's leading food retailers
and food service businesses.
Speciality bread business, Kara Foods acquired
in 1991, employs over 200 people. They are one of the UK's leading
suppliers of burger buns supplying fresh products daily to key fast
food customers, and frozen products to catering and retail outlets.
Cavaghan and Gray
Acquired early in 1998 with sites in Carlisle,
Aberdeen and Grimsby, Cavaghan & Gray employs over 2,000 people
and produces products including potato topped pies, quiches, recipe
dishes, crispbakes and party foods mainly for Marks and Spencer.
The site at Aberdeen deals with the procurement and processing of
vegetables and fish for other group companies. The site in Grimsby
produces coated fish products, in addition to supplying wet fish
for Marks and Spencer.
Other companies listed in Who Owns Whom
: Edmonds Eccles Cakes, Fleur De Lys Pies, Garratts of Hertford,
Manorcroft, Melwood Investments, Minsterley Cremeries; Lanraye Frozen
Foods, Rylands Butchers, Norman Peat, TN Parr Ltd, DreamPhoto; DreamPlayer;
DressAdmire, Evfi Ltd; Northern Foods Quest Ltd and Square Investments.
Influence and Lobbying
When it comes to wielding influence, one can only
gawp in admiration at Lord Haskins dedication to forwarding his
own and his companys agenda. This man must just love meetings
Labour Party Interests 
He has given the Labour Party donations of £5,000
a year since 1992 (with an extra £14,000 in 1997). In March
2001, he gave £10,000 to the Labour Party.
He has advised both UK and Irish Governments on
agricultural, economic and environmental policy options, and in
1998 accepted two part-time positions with the British Government
as Chairman of the Better Regulation Task Force which is an unpaid
position requiring eight days a month work. He is also on the New
Deal Task Force.
In October 2001, he announced his forthcoming
departure from the Better Regulation Task Force. He presented his
last annual report in his typical outspoken style with an attack
on Britain's "inherently autocratic, inflexible and remote"
regulatory culture .
As head of this Task Force, he has advocated the
legalisation of cannabis, the BBC to take advertising, the Church
of England to be disestablished and the country's main sporting
bodies dumped. He has also advocated 24 hour drinking. He
has called on the Government to rethink the Regulation of Investigatory
Powers (RIP) that allows the interception of emails.
Lord Macdonald, the Cabinet Office minister,
said the taskforce had played "a vital role in keeping government
on its toes". It has published 22 reports, with 300 recommendations
for changes, of which only eight have been rejected. However, critics
say much of its success is based on Lord Haskins' closeness to Tony
Blair and his long-standing influence as a leading business supporter
of the New Labour project.
He is also a member of the Board of the Yorkshire
and the Humber Regional Development Agency (Yorkshire Forward).
In August 2001, Haskins was appointed by Tony
Blair as unpaid Rural Recovery Co-ordinator
supported by the Rural Task Force Secretariat in DEFRA and by staff
in the Government Office of the North-West. His role: to help local
authorities and agencies stimulate economic recovery in Cumbria,
and other areas worst hit by foot-and-mouth. This report was published
on 18th October 2001. See Corporate Crimes section.
Other Political Appointments
1991-92 the Irish Governments Industrial
Policy Review Group (Culliton Report);
1992 94 the Independent Commission on Social Justice;
1995 96 Waldegrave Committee on C.A.P. Reform
1996 97 the Hampel Committee on Corporate Governance;
1995 98 the UK Governments Round Table on Sustainable
1996 99 a member of the CBIs President Committee.
He is patron of the Whitehall and Industry Group
(WIG). This is an independent, not-for-profit (!) organisation,
founded in 1984 to promote better understanding between industry
and government. WIG organises company attachments in government
departments. Haskins was presumably instrumental in ensuring the
Northern Foods placement in MAFF .
He was appointed to the Board of Directors of
Lawes Agricultural Trust Company Limited in 1999. This is a charity
and company limited by guarantee attached to the Rothampsted Research
Station, part of the Institute of Arable Crop Research.
He is currently a Trustee of the Blairite think
tank DEMOS, The Civil Liberties Trust and The Legal Assistance Trust.
He is a council member of Make Votes Count and the campaign
patron of Mansfield College, Oxford. He is a Member of the Court
of the University of Hull.
He is keenly pro-European and pro Britains
swift acceptance of the Euro. He is on the Advisory Board of the
'Britain in Europe', and influential pro Europe think tank, making
a donation to them of £5000 or more during 1999-2000 .
Haskins farm in Yorkshire is managed by
an independent farming company along with his eldest son, Paul and
his wife, Gilda. The farm belongs to his wifes family.
In an article in the Daily Express (16th August),
he revealed that this farm receives some £60,000 a year in
subsidies. The following day (17th August), the Daily Mail revealed
that the Haskins farm was running a £500,000 overdraft. His
sons 250-acre dairy farm in Ireland is also supported by subsidies
Other political projects
On 17 July 2001, the Foreign Policy Centre launched
"The Future of European Rural Communities" - a 9 month
project into the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy to be
led by Lord Haskins. It will take evidence from European experts
across the political spectrum including former Irish Taioseach John
Bruton and former British Environment Secretary John Gummer.
The Foreign Policy Centre was launched in 1998
by Tony Blair and Robin Cook and is funded by the likes of BP, Rio
Tinto and Diageo. It seems fairly evident that Haskins
vision for CAP reform will favour trade liberalisation. It will
favour cheap imports for food manufacturers and processors from
outside the European Union, more corporate owned mega-farms, more
power to the supermarkets over suppliers and the end of small farming
as anything other than a part-time hobby for the wealthy.
In 1999 he received an honorary degree from Leeds
In 2000 he was awarded an honorary degree from
Cranfield University at Silsoe in Bedfordshire for his work in the
food industry. Ben Gill received an honorary degree at the same
time. Sean Rickard, former chief economist of the NFU and another
key pro-agribusiness and anti-small farms evangelist, is a professor
at Cranfield School of Management.
1) Undue political
influence in determining the future of farming
a decision to place Haskins in charge
of a "rural recovery plan" is akin to asking Lady Thatcher
to head a task force on the future of the coal industry. Lord H
has already made it clear what he wants: mergers of dairy companies
and bigger, industrialised farms, geared up to provide the bigger
food manufacturers with everything on a plate .
Haskins is very much part of the new Labour drive
to ignore democratically elected Parliament and move towards a US
presidential style of government, advised by an unelected body of
task forces headed up by corporate leaders. His unthinking outspoken
and unsympathetic style has won him enemies from both the right
and the left. However, those who know him claim he is charming and
affable, and cite his early membership of CND and the African National
Congress as examples of his humanity. Now that his report on the
future of British agriculture has been published, tens of thousands
of small farmers think differently.
Insiders had laid odds on Haskins chairing up
the promised Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and
Food -charged by the Government to come up with a plan
to develop a sustainable, competitive and diverse farming and food
sector by December 2001. Instead they appointed Sir Don Curry,
best known for his highly criticised role in the BSE scandal as
head of the Meat and Livestock Commission; perhaps the PM thought
giving Haskins this position would show too obvious a conflict of
The report is, in any case, likely to concur with
both Haskins and the Governments thinking on the future
of farming. The terms of reference for the Commission are crucially
limited by its need to be
consistent with the Governments
aims for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, enlargement of
the EU and increased trade liberalisation. In any case, Haskins
is pulling the strings on the UK CAP reform policy by presiding
over a paper from the Foreign Policy Centre, a respected independent
think tank (see earlier section on Other Political Projects). This
is likely to see a transfer of subsidies to farmers, away from production
and to be more linked into conservation. What this will not tackle
is the fact that supermarkets and processors pay so little, sometimes
below the cost of production, that many farmers have become reliant
on these production subsidies to make a living. If subsidies are
removed without ensuring that farmers are paid a fair wage, small
farmers will not be able to survive.
2) Promoting an unsustainable
model of agriculture solely to suit the needs of Northern Foods.
Northern Foods are the supermarkets dream.
They supply cheap processed food, which apparently the British public
wants. They are efficient, even owning their own distribution company,
NFT. And there isnt a whinging small producer in sight. This
is a US-style hi-tech vertically and horizontally integrated manufacturing
business: the messy issues of farming and cooking dont come
into it. And this model of agribusiness is likely to prevail in
the UK. As Haskins himself has admitted, it will be a "beneficiary
of a big shake-up of the food industry as over-capacity is eliminated".
And Northern Foods supposedly sources 80% of its food in the UK
so it is ensuring that this model is entrenched in the UK.
Whilst most other sectors in the UK economy are
sensibly concentrating on low volume, high value production, Haskins
is urging UK farming to do the opposite, and compete head-on with
the heavily subsidised million-acre grain farms in Canada and million-sow
"hog cities" in North Carolina. He exudes that New Labour
optimism that if he says we can compete enough times,
it will come true. At a recent conference, Haskins claimed that
UK processed milk and yoghurt are highly competitive exports.
Why on earth we would want to export milk, a perishable product
that can be easily produced on a more local scale, is beyond me.
Besides, one of his key arguments, and one of the main reasons why
he wants us to join the Euro, is that the value of the pound is
too high to make our exports viable at the moment. So just when
we will have this vibrant food export market is baffling.
Whilst Northern Foods and its supermarket friends
will gain from turning Britain into a soulless industrial-agricultural
prairie growing mass monocultures of unfamiliar commodity crops,
its hard to see who else will gain. Certainly not the farmers, who
he persists in stringing along. Besides, there is no consumer demand
for the GM crops Lord Haskins champions, or the antibiotic residues
found in most mass-produced meat.
From the announcement of his six week appointment
as Rural Recovery Co-ordinator in August 2001, Haskins
began making pronouncements from his holiday in France as if he
were running the show. He has suggested that half of the UKs
farms will disappear in the next 20 years, that small farmers should
take second jobs on BMW assembly lines to survive, and
that molly-coddled British farmers could learn a thing
or two about entrepreneurism from the French. All helpful comments
bound to reassure beleaguered British farmers, and sufficient for
Downing Street to let it be known that the peer is independent.
Hypocritical comments also from a man who receives
£50,000 worth of subsidies on his Yorkshire wheat and barley
farm and, like most farmers is hugely indebted to the bank.
Some other comments have sounded more sensible,
such as overhauling subsidies to support environmental stewardship,
promoting co-operatives to supply local markets and to further develop
the organic market. But its hard to know which Haskins to
trust. Earlier this year he famously said Let the heir to
the throne enjoy his excellent if somewhat risky organic food
my cattle enjoy their genetically modified soya.
Haskins report as rural recovery co-ordinator
pulled no punches. In the short term, he called for £40 million
of aid to be given to small businesses in hardest hit areas such
as Cumbria. Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for the Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs responded with a mere £20 million.
She and Haskins went on the blame farmers for being out of touch
commercially and warned that the taxpayer should not support unsound
Beef and sheep farming have, until now, been heavily
subsidised on the basis of headage payments i.e. a subsidy based
on the number of animals. This has been blamed for the large sheep
population that has increased by half to forty million over the
last twenty years and been environmentally damaging to upland Britain.
Through subsidies, the UK taxpayer currently pays around £5bn
a year to farming - around a third of the industry's gross annual
income - although the cost of foot and mouth will considerably inflate
Lord Haskins's tough recommendations were balanced
with a plea for extra help for thousands of farmers whose animals
are trapped in fields. Farmers whose stock has been slaughtered
have received more than £1bn in compensation, others are
effectively forgotten victims, with animals running out of feed
and severe welfare problems looming.
These measures will spell the end for many sheep
farmers who have suffered terribly through the stress and utter
cruelty of the Governments mishandling of the FMD crisis,
as well as a crisis of over-production which has put them at the
mercy of the food processors and supermarkets. The Government may
have got what they wanted, a massive reduction in livestock farming
in the UK and thus a massive reduction in subsidies, but at what
human and animal costs? At what environmental costs? And at what
cost for rural communities dependent on farming and associated industries?
Such policies are making the solution to the farming crisis, environmentally
and economically sustainable communities sourcing their food as
locally as possible, seem a distant vision.
3) Selling unhealthy
As highlighted earlier, Northern Foods are second
to none in their treatment of their staff, but where is their concern/
interest/excitement for the thing they produce: food? Scanning the
Northern Foods mid-term report 2001, it is easy to see the secrets
of its financial success - well positioned brands, excellent manufacturing
facilities and a more efficient capital management structure based
on a share buyback programme. Our aim according to the
2000 annual report, remains the creation of shareholder value
by being the most effective added-value food manufacturer supplying
the UK retail market.
This is a world where quality seems
synonymous with convenience and innovation, and consumer interest
in health issues is interpreted as low fat and calorie
counted ranges. Examples of efficiency abound. At Riverside,
for example, £12m-worth of investment in a continuous quiche
production facility, coupled with daily performance measures of
efficiency and labour utilisation, has increased capacity to 5000
quiches per hour .
It makes me want to run away crying for my mothers
cooking, or at least for my veg box and my cook book.
and another thing!
The Ski "yoghurts" manufactured
by Northern Foods contain modified starch, sodium citrate, unspecified
flavourings, anthocyanin, aspartame and acesulfame K. His Dalepak
"lamb grills" (reconstituted meat masquerading as a kind
of lamb chop) are loaded with mutton, rusk, sugar, sodium diacetate,
modified waxy maize starch, flavourings, wheat protein, sugar beet
fibre, dextrose, malic acid and sodium acetate. Goodfella's pizzas,
also manufactured by Northern Foods, contain modified maize starch,
dextrose, whey powder, sugar, flour treatment agent, mono- and di-glycerides
of fatty acids, sodium stearoyl lactylate, L-cysteine hydrochloride,
ascorbic acid, sodium polyphosphates, sodium ascorbate, sodium nitrite,
and "smoke flavour". 
Most of these ingredients are indeed cheap, for
example, maize starch, sugar beet fibre and whey powder, are waste
products of the food-processing industry. The products, on the other
hand, are undoubtedly not cheap. Dalepaks lamb grills
cost £8.45 a kilo; almost twice the price of genuine lamb
is most independent butchers.
Northern Foods deny that they currently use Mechanically
Recovered Meat (MRM), the cheap sludge hosed off beef carcasses
in abattoirs widely linked with transmission of new variant CJD,
the human form of BSE. However, when asked for evidence they stated
that they had no written records because "the information on
product recipes is commercially confidential and the property of
our retail customers." So the question is, if they have
no records, how can they prove MRM was never used? Maybe they should
also answer why they consider commercial confidentiality more important
than our health.
They did however admit that Bowyers used bovine
MRM in its economy sausages before it took the company over in 1984.
Northern Foods also revealed that Dalepak had used bovine MRM. "It
has always been our policy not to use mechanically recovered meat.
When we acquired Bowyers and Dalepak, the company moved swiftly
to remove MRM, but this would have taken a few months to complete,'
said a spokesman.
Lord Haskins has claimed that the poor need cheap
food. If his offerings are anything to go by, people will pay
with their health, the degradation of the countryside and the exploitation
of farmers. The poor need affordable food, but also deserve healthy
food and a healthy environment.
But modern corporate farming gets worse the further
up you look in the food industry chain. In the House of Lords register
of interests, Haskins is also named as a director of JSR Farms and
chair of Express Dairies.
4) Exploiting small farmers the case
of Express Dairies
Meridian Business Park
CEO Neil Davison
Express Dairies is the UK's largest supplier of
milk to supermarkets and the largest supplier of UHT milk and cream.
In January 2000, after taking over Glanbia UK, they cut 460 jobs,
closing dairies and distribution centres.
Haskins became Non-Executive Chairman of the
Leicester-based Express Diaries at the end of March 1998. Express
Dairies was de-merged from Northern Foods in 1998. His successor
at Express Dairies will be Sir David Naish, a non-executive director
of the company since 1998 and a former president of the National
If anything reveals the inequities within the
food chain to Lord Haskins, it should be his own experience with
Express Dairies. Despite being the market leader in liquid and UHT
milk in the UK, they are in desperate financial trouble- their profits
have fallen 18% this year. This is not just as a result of foot
and mouth nor an overly competitive market. Insiders claim that
there is not even room for the three massive dairy companies that
control the industry. The real reason is the stranglehold that
the supermarkets have over the industry.
Knowing that there is an oversupply of milk within
the industry, the supermarkets have mercilessly squeezed the processors,
and hence the small dairy farmers who supply them. During the height
of the milk crisis last year, farmers were regularly being paid
5-6p/litre below the cost of production by Express and the others.
Even when some of the supermarkets passed on an extra 2p/litre on
the price of milk to processors on the condition it was passed back
to the farmer, Express Dairies failed to do so, rightly predicting
that the supermarkets would again drop the price thus hammering
their profits further.
Diversification into delivery services with Parcel
Force, dry cleaning services, merging with Golden Vale and closing
plants has not saved Express Dairies, and rumours of takeovers abound.
To add to the misery, Express Dairies has also
been affected by FMD, axing its final dividend in 2001.
Before his retirement was announced, Haskins came
under fire from shareholders for not focusing on the plight of Express
Dairies. New management is expected to accelerate Express
role in the industrys move towards consolidation, by pursuing
merger talks with companies such as Robert Wiseman Dairies, or the
Swedish and Danish farmers cooperative Arla.
5) Supporting the intensive factory farming
JSR Farms is based down the road from Northern
Foods in Driffield, East Yorkshire. Lord Haskins holds a non-executive
directorship. It is one of the largest private, family-owned farming
companies in Britain. Owning 6,400 acres, over 120,000 breeding
and slaughter pigs and with an annual turnover of £20 million,
this is scarcely a family farm of yore.
One look at the links page, with its catalogue
of agrochemicals companies, shows where JSRs sympathies lie.
In 1998, they hosted an Aventis GM sugar beet trial. The biotech
links are reinforced through a joint venture in pig genetics with
US-based DeKalb genetics, owned by Monsanto. JSR Healthbred is one
of the leading suppliers of high quality pig semen all around the
world, including to US grain giant, Cargills 150,000 breeding
The language used to describe pigs on their website
reveals all. Currently they are using high-tech laboratory-based
selective breeding to produce their genetically improved 'genepacker
105', 'genepacker 120' and 'meatpacker plus' models. Considering
their links with Monsanto, however, one could imagine them jumping
at the idea of genetically modified or cloned pigs in the future.
In Pig Farming, April 1999, John Webb, geneticist
at the Cotswolds Pig Development Company is sure that genetic
engineering will shape the future of the pig industry. He states
that the genetic revolution has brought frozen embryos,
allowing scientists to move genes around without risk, cloning,
sex determination, in-vitro meiosis, selecting and cloning embryos.
He says: Technology also provides the key
to insert genes that would help improve pig meat quality, cause
faster growth and ensure healthier pigs. He states that using
a Meishan sow, scientists could add a growth development factor
to increase litter size, a gene to provide a better carcase, a gene
to determine sex to ensure more efficient males and eliminate
boar taint by removing genes responsible for skatole and andriosterone,
so producing 36 top quality piglets per sow per year.
That modern pig could then be cloned to
provide producers with a regular income. 
When animals become mere commodities, it is no
wonder that across Britains highly industrialised pig sector, the
level of animal welfare abuse is shocking, as Vivas recent
report Pig in Hell (2001) reveals. It is also not surprising that
earlier this year, JSR farms were prosecuted for falsifying information
claiming that live export pigs were properly rested on an overland
journey from Wiltshire to Hamburg, when in fact they were denied
the mandatory 24 hour resting period.
As with Northern Foods, JSRs employment
policies are exemplary. It was the first farming company to be recognised
as an Investor in People and won National Training Awards in 1992
and 1994. As with Northern Foods it has close self-interested links
with government. Its chairman, Tim Rymer, is a member of the Meat
Industry Red Tape Working Group, part of the Food Standards Agency.
6) Supporting Genetically Engineered Foods
Haskins is an outspoken advocate for GM foods,
speaking at the US sponsored "Seeds of Opportunity: The Role
of Biotechnology in Agriculture" Conference in May 2001.
Lord Haskins, reluctantly had his company remove
GM ingredients in response to customer preference. He has also been
an outspoken critic of organic foods. Ssee section 1 in Corporate
According to the Greenpeace Shoppers
Guide to GM , Northern Foods confirm that they do not
GM material in their foods, although they cannot give assurances
that the dairy, meat or eggs used in Dalepak products are derived
from animals fed on non-GM crops. Likewise, they cannot confirm
that the cheese and meat used on Goodfellas pizzas comes from
animals fed on non-GM crops.
Haskins experience with Express Dairies and his
own farm mean that he must know the real reasons for the global
crisis in agriculture. He must know that farmers would much rather
be paid a fair price than receive large subsidies. He must know
that he peddles cheap unhealthy, synthetic convenience junk food,
and that agricultural liberalisation will only increase its availability.
He must see that we will become reliant on exploiting Southern producers
whilst rural communities in Britain are decimated. He must know
that the faster the automated quiche machine goes, the faster the
chink of the cash register, the faster the pace of modern life will
go. But somehow he can't see it.
Blinded by high-tech agriculture, economies of
scale and free-trade theories he can only prescribe more of the
same. Or perhaps he is right after all, and the English farmers
will soon be borrowing the spirit of their French counterparts and
taking on Northern Foods as the Confederation Paysanne is taking
The Guardian has a substantial section the farming
Food Industry websites such as www.just-food.com
George Monbiot is a outspoken critic of corporatised
agriculture. He has a good section on supermarkets and farming on
. Also see his book Captive State: The Corporate Takeover
of Britain, MacMillan 2000.
Schlosser, Eric (2001) Fast Food Nation: The Dark
Side of the American Meal, Penguin.
 Pestons People: Lord Chris Haskins
in the Business Section. The Sunday Times 26/8/01
 Northern Foods sales rise against falling margins
 Square Mile stock shows symptoms of foot-and-mouth
Financial Times 8/10/01
 Pestons People: Lord Chris Haskins in the
Business Section. The Sunday Times 26/8/01
 Northern Foods in the International Directory of
Companies History (ed) Paula Kepos. St James Press. ITP (1995).
 Pestons People: Lord Chris Haskins
 Northern Foods change of strategy now bearing
fruit 31/5/01 DataMonitor CommentWire.
 Lord Haskins speech at Agrivision Conference, organised by
the Royal Agricultural Society, Stoneleigh, Warks 6/12/01
 International Directory of Companies History (ed) Paula Kepos
 unless stated otherwise, information from Northern Foods Annual
Report 2000: www.northern-foods.co.uk/shareholders/images/pdf/REPORT00.PDF
 Hollis PR directory 2000
 Nestle Chief to head Food manufacturers in 2000.
Food and Drink Federation press release 2 December 1999.
 Food lobby forced PM into u-turn on plan for vaccination
by John Vidal and Peter Hetherington.The Guardian, Saturday 8th
 Listed in the House of Lords - Register of Interests
 pers.comm with former employee of Northern Foods.
 Taskforce chief attacks regulatory culture by Kevin
Brown. The Financial Times 18/10/01.
 Legalise cannabis, says Labour adviser By Matt Wells The Guardian
July 4th 2000
 See FT article footnote 24
 Haskins farm £500,000 in red by FWi staff
17 August 2001
 Richard Adams, City diary, Guardian, August 7, 2001
 Pestons People Business Section of the Sunday Times 26/8/01
 Lord Haskins speech at Agrivision Conference, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire
 Interview with Adrian Arbib at Agrivision Conference, Stoneleigh,
 "No. 10 distances itself from claim that farmers are too
reliant on aid." The Independent 14/9/01
 See section on Farming interests.
 At the Provision Trade Federation annual dinner 2001
 Stick and £20m carrot for rural economy in
The Guardian 19/10/01
 See for example Not the Foot and Mouth Crisis published
by Private Eye 26/10/01
 See for example, Bringing the Food Economy Back Home,
Norberg-Hodge,Gorelick and See for example, Bringing the Food
Economy Back Home, Norberg-Hodge,Gorelick and Merrifield.
ISEC report 2000. Call 01803 868650. Or The Case Against the
Global Economy Goldsmith and Mander (1996) Sierra Book Clubs.
Localisation - A Global Manifesto. Hines (2000) Earthscan.
 Northern Foods Annual Report 2000.
 Thats the Horror of Haskins by George Monbiot.
The Spectator 1/9/01
 Top Companies In Slaughterhouse Slurry Claim The
Sunday Times 29/10/01 see also www.readymealsinfo.com/categories/results-manufacturers.asp?txtContent=3313
 Poor need cheap food The Guardian 13/9/01
 Chairman of Two British food companies to retire
November 14th 2001. Evening Standard.
 The Guardian, October 5, 2001:
 Pers. comm. with former employee of Express Dairies.
 Farmers For Action: www.farmersforaction.org
 Pers. comm. with former employee of Express Dairies.
 Business a.m., 29th May 2001,
 'City Alarm Over Foot and Mouth', Evening Standard, 20th March
 UK: Royden attacks Haskins' role at Express Dairies 5/10/01.
just-food.com editorial team.
 Scientist Warn About GM Timebomb for Pigs. Pig Farming. April
Update Articles 2003
1. Robert Cole.
Northern Foods under pressure. The Times, 16 January 2003
3. Ingrid Mansell.
Northern Foods dives after woeful Christmas. The Times, 16 January
4. History of
Northern Foods plc. as per 17th January 2003