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Food retailing in the West – economic and environmental impacts.

In many industrialised countries, food retailing is dominated by a few large supermarket chains with considerable buying power. There is a tendency to squeeze grower margins in order to maximise profits. Supermarkets are able not only to determine the prices they pay to producers but to insist on standardised produce and year-round availability. Safeway (USA) supermarkets operate their own dairy processing facilities. Coles-Myer (Australia) buy the packaged food under their own label. Other large supermarket chains are Wal-Mart (USA), Carrefour (France), Tesco (UK) and Asda (UK).

This price pressure is also applied to food processors so that some of the large manufacturers e.g. Del Monte, Unilever have their own contracted growers. Unilever, Nestle and Philip Morris (Kraft) buy their milk directly from dairy farmers at the lowest price possible, which has resulted in a reduction in the number of dairy farmers in the USA.

The siting of many supermarkets on the outskirts of towns means that Western consumers are forced to drive to shop instead of walking. In this way they use more fossil fuels than if shops were located near to their place of residence.

Most food products are over-packaged. This is mainly for the convenience of the retailer to facilitate self-service. Also food manufacturers want their products to stand out and catch the eye of the consumer and this can involve the use of bright shiny plastics. More fossil fuels are utilised in the manufacture of these plastics.

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