usanne Austin provides help, advice and marketing expertise to food producers. The Cotswold Food Group, adds value to any business which may need, for example, to estabtlish a market, brand a product or even relocate to a new area.

"Last year the fuel strike cut off supplies and crippled the infrastructure of this country. Demand then outstripped supply as the market moved in to crisis. But how does the public imagine we would cope if the food we import more and more were to cease?

   The Foot and Mouth crisis was therefore devastating for Susanne and her entire list of clients. It soon became very clear that urgent help and advice was necessary to prevent many businesses from failing. The ramifications of the outbreak were set to devastate livelihoods and Susanne realised she had to take swift action for all concerned.
   "I tried everywhere for help", explains Susanne. "At times like this you call on all the information available. I tried Government departments, enterprise agencies and helplines but only the FSB offered interest-free financial help and solid, sound advice. I cannot praise them enough."
   With so many links in the food industry and such a responsibility for those who depended on her help, Susanne was in a unique position to spread word of her gratitude for the FSB's advice.
   "I have to be ready and willing to help my clients at a moment's notice", she told TVN, "but those approached were somewhat unwill­ing to put themselves out; it was very frustrat­ing. The FSB, on the other hand, acted immediately even though it was Good Friday: Their representative arrived with a whole raft of measures to address the effects of Foot and Mouth."
   Susanne is an optimist who has developed a 'never give up' approach to life. She believes that today's food industry is being destroyed by 'ridiculous' legislation and bureaucracy.
   "Food should be measured by its taste, smell, texture and traceability. Instead, we find rubbery, mass-produced 'grog' on the shelves. People are so used to it they have forgotten what 'real food' tastes like.


   "We need to re-educate our palates, re-establish our own local brands and turn around an industry which is now paying the price of commercialism.
   "We have taken away the decision-making and expertise from the food producer who really cares about his or her product and filled the gap with rules and regulations which have damaged whole communities.
   "One of my group has been producing cheese all his working life. He now estimates that, in order to bring himself in to line with EEC regulations, he will have to spend £250,000. He now feels as it is easier to shut the business down than continue with it why should he bother? There, is a quality food producer, with a unique and delicious product, who is lost to us forever".
   It is not possible to speak to Susanne without being totally impressed by the commitment she shows to her cause. She is a breath of fresh air to an industry which is struggling to catch its breath.
   In order to continue her work in supporting her clients, she has started to retail from shared premises in Oxford and has even taken a part-time job to secure an income.
   "The recent F&M crisis was a big 'eye opener' and has, thankfully, led to an examination of how we produce food in this country," she says. " I'm pleased that recent reports have indicated the public is moving towards purchasing less intensively farmed and organic produce, but there is still a long way to go.


We would have no local suppliers to fall back on".
  Susanne believes that Farmers' Markets have proved invaluable for creating a new and progressive way forward.
   "We must not underestimate how valuable these town markets are going to be in reviving our pride and expertise in British food production. The produce is fresher, grown and produced locally, often free of colourings and preservatives and sold by those who know and understand the background of each item. People are flocking to these markets and spending time getting to know each other whilst they shop.
   "Farmers' Market launched in the UK some 7 years ago struggled to attract stallholders. However, producers are now on waiting lists-such is the demand-the market places are now thriving and the consumers love it."
   Susanne also believes that people will be healthier if they eat better quality food:-
   "We are walking chemical compounds adding more chemicals to our body every day. Who wants to eat preservatives and hormones? Making a change, I hope, will lead to a reduction in allergies, cancer and disease such as chronic fatigue which seems to be on the increase."
   Susanne is an incredibly energetic campaigner whose motto is 'Buy Local, Buy Regional, Buy British'. She is currently looking for all levels of sponsorship to help support producers. As a thank you to the FSB for its help she will be donating a raffle prize (a hamper of quality foods) to the AGM in November.

For more information contact Susanne on 01865 742793. For details of Farmers Markets in your area call 08702 414762


Courtesy of FSB - Thames Valley News