Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Why is milk cheaper than water?

I recently popped into the wee convenience bit of a petrol station to grab one of those caffeine-laden fizzy drinks (I’m omitting the name lest I be accused of advertising) and I noticed that the bottled Scottish spring water was retailing for over a pound, but the pint of milk was a little over 50 pence (never you mind how much my caffeine cost – that’s another blog!).  This seems crazy to me and setting aside the question of whether we should ever drink bottled water when Scottish Water pipes it to the tap in most houses across Scotland, is there not something fundamentally wrong when a bottle of water costs more than a pint of Scottish milk? Are we not running into yet another case of market-driven rather than ethically-driven goods? 

A dairy farmer has to feed and care for a herd 365 days a year; has to ensure that the cows are milked; and the dairy has to collect a highly perishable product, pasteurise and package it and deliver it to the shop in the shortest possible time.

Farmers in the dairy industry have long complained that the price they receive for each litre of milk does not cover the cost of production.  The news that the price of milk paid to dairy farmers has been cut again has caused further frustration, genuine anger and understandable upset. 

I accept that this is a difficult and complex subject.  According to news reports some supermarket chains will try not cut the price they pay to farmers but the Robert Wiseman dairy, which is owned by the giant food business Muller, has cut the price, citing international overproduction as a reason.

Food is not just another commodity to be bought and sold on the global free market; it is a gift from God which we must treat with more respect.  We also have to treat the people who make the gift accessible with respect – we have a duty to be just in our purchasing. If we continue to treat milk as something that can be sold at a rock bottom price - cheaper than water! - then I doubt whether this can be truly sustainable, fair to the farmer, or good for creation.

The Church of Scotland launched a report ‘Give us Our daily Bread’ at the Royal Highland Show 2012. You can find out more here.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

‘God Particle’ won’t show us what it is to be human

The discovery of the so-called ‘God Particle’ – the ‘Higgs Boson’ might be able to tell us more about our biological existence but it does not explain the human condition.

The capacity of the human mind to be curious never ceases to amaze me and anything that helps us better understand the deep complexity of our biological existence has to be a good thing.

In amongst that joy however, is a feeling of bemusement; the constant reference to the Higgs Bosun being the ‘God’ particle. The irony is that this is used to suggest that God has been disproved by this discovery when the truth is, the idea of God and the theory or Higgs Bosun have very little in common.

When the scientists tell us in detail what they have found, will they tell us how we fall in love, how we chose to forgive when forgiveness seems impossible, how human beings deal with suffering and feel celebration for strangers as much as for those they know, what brings us to moral decisions that are the antithesis of the survival of the fittest theory.

I could go on but you get my point. Higgs Bosun will tell us much more about our biological existence but it will tell us very little about the parts of the human condition that way are real way beyond the biology – maybe even way beyond our human understanding – and yet are as real for our human living as the Higgs Bosun particle has perhaps now become.

Let one who is without sin cast the first stone

Criticising bankers seems once again to be the in thing, with politicians and newspaper editors leading the way.

Sadly neither of those groups are the most respected or well-regarded either.

When Jesus was confronted with the question of what do to with a woman who had been condemned for adultery, he confounded onlookers by not calling for her death by stoning but with a question of his own: let one who is without sin cast the first stone.

I do not get any comfort when my politicians blame others or call for heads to roll. Where wrong doing has happened, justice should take its course without needing the interventions of a passing bandwagon.

How can any of us know how we might have fared if we were subject to the same pressures, culture and systemic forces pushing and pulling on us?

I heard a commentator say that the problem of having banks too big to fail was that people had no fear or concept of risk. If the Government will always bail you out then the system will never be fixed. So, is the response is to reintroduce fear in the system?  To make capitalism more capitalist?

Well that's not my take on fixing a system. Relying on the negative forces of greed and fear is no way to go about creating an environment where real and lasting positive change can take place.

The Church of Scotland's Special Commission on the purposes of Economic Activity makes the case for the alternative way of fixing the problem; to change a culture so that capitalism's goals take account of means as well as ends. Wealth creation can be ethical, so long as economic activity includes the principles that reduce inequality, promote mutuality, eliminate poverty and are environmentally sustainable. So let's stop sitting in our glass houses casting stones and start planting some seeds of change.

Al Ahli Hospital, Gaza

The Al Ahli Hospital is run by the Anglican Church in Gaza.

It has been funded by UNRWA – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees – but it has recently been announced that this funding will stop and UNWRA are re-tendering for a new contract to provide these services.

The Anglican Church in the region is one of The Church of Scotland’s key partners, as you might know The Church of Scotland has had a presence in Israel / Occupied Palestinian Territories for many years.

Very Reverend Davod Arnott at Al Ahli Hospital, Gaza

Because of this friendship and solidarity the Moderator of the Church of Scotland General Assembly recently wrote to the UK Government about this issue, and has received a reply from the International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell MP.  The Anglican Bishop of Exeter also asked questions about UNRWA’s funding decision in the House of Lords.

  • Read Rt Rev Albert Bogle’s letter here.
  • And the reply from Andrew Mitchell MP.
The two questions asked in the Lords by the Bishop of Exeter can be seen here and here.

The General Assembly received a report on Gaza last month, and expressed grave concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation, with its unacceptable, avoidable and potentially disastrous consequences.

The decision to terminate funding for the Al Ahli Hospital seems to me to be wrong; it creates uncertainty for staff and patients and could throw the whole future of the facility into doubt.  I am also saddened that the UK Government has not taken a firmer line to offer its solidarity and support for this Anglican hospital, with the rather feeble and unexplained excuse that ‘it is not appropriate for us to intervene in individual procurement decisions.’  As the UK is a major international aid donor and is committed to the United Nations and to peace in the Middle East, surely they can bring these concerns and their influence to bear on this decision which is manifestly damaging to the people of Gaza. 

I hope that you will pray, especially for the hospital staff and patients during a time of change and uncertainty.  Please also pray for understanding by the decision-makers at UNRWA so that they take the decision to keep the international community’s support for Al Ahli.