THAT'S NOT fair is a familiar cry in any household with children.

In time, children grow up and realise fairness in life is not always guaranteed and that this is just the way things are. However when it comes to farming, fairness does not seem to be an option, and far from improving, things are getting worse. All efforts to force fairness into the food chain, whether at an EU or UK level, start off with good intentions, but ultimately fail to deliver.

The American president John F Kennedy is remembered for many things in his political and personal life, but he is not generally known as a supporter of farmers. But he said, when president, that farmers 'deserve praise not condemnation for their efficiency' and that this efficiency should be a cause for gratitude rather than criticism. The UK government's decision to put green issues far ahead of food security flies in the face of that sixty-year old quotation. On fairness, Kennedy also got it right when he famously said farmers were the only group in the economy who bought retail, sold wholesale and were expected to pay the freight.

There is no escape for any politicians from the reality that, Brexit or no Brexit, the share of what consumers spend on food that comes back to farmers has been falling steadily and is continuing to fall. People are spending a rapidly shrinking share of their income on food, but they still want it cheaper. Brexit might be creating gaps on supermarket shelves and driving up prices, but farmers will not feel any benefit. This is the essential unfairness of the food supply chain and all attempts to tackle it have failed to deliver meaningful outcomes.

The Grocery Code Adjudicator was a bold initiative, but after a brief initial flurry and focus nothing has really changed, certainly so far as farmers are concerned. When he became EU farm commissioner in 2014, Phil Hogan used a speech in Dublin to promise EU legislation to tackle unfairness along the food supply chain. He duly delivered that legislation, but while the legislation is in place its impact has been minimal. The bottom line remains than trans-European supermarket groups are just too big and too strong to be corralled by legislation. Whether it is the European Commission or the UK government, politicians know that consumers have become addicted to cheap food and there are not many votes in trying to alter that dynamic in favour of farmers.

The European Commission recently made much of its successes in protecting EU businesses from unfair competition. This included action against illegal state subsidies and those breaking World Trade Organisation rules to the disadvantage of EU exporters. However laudable as that is, the EU also insists on protecting some of the biggest and most successful global businesses by imposing anti-dumping duties on ammonium nitrate from Russia in particular. This protects these businesses while driving up costs for farmers and ultimately consumers. This seems a bizarre way to act and it is ultimately unfair that a market should be skewed to protect a few global businesses. This was a policy Hogan wanted to overturn as commissioner, as part of his battle to secure greater fairness for farmers, but he faced a powerful lobby and was ultimately told this was a no-go area for a farm commissioner. The UK says it is committed to global free trade so hopefully freed of the shackles of the EU, it will set its face against any such practices that distort markets and competition.

This is just the top of a much bigger problem for farmers, because of how a limited number of suppliers, retailers and processors are in a strong position to control markets. Interestingly while these are not good times for President Joe Biden in the US, he has lived up to a promise to tackle the unfairness farmers face. The US Department of Agriculture is set to give new teeth to the 100-year old Packers and Stockyards Act, which outlaws all forms of discrimination against farm families, to drive greater fairness in relations between farmers and processors. It gives as examples outlawing poultry processors demanding that farmers invest in new facilities to maintain contracts. It also says processors will need to explain differences between contract and open market prices for cattle. Whether this will work time will tell, but this is thinking the government could usefully copy here via more teeth for the Grocery Adjudicator.