Wednesday, 24 March 2010
Cider Tax Rise - Who Cares?
So the worst has happened and the Chancellor - who one imagines is more of a Real Ale man - has slapped a 10% duty increase on cider. Does it really matter? I mean, a lot of people don't like cider or perry, so why should people who do get to pay less tax on their tipple of choice?
Let's look at it from a different perspective. Hands up who likes birds. Or, to be more specific, hands up who thinks it's important to preserve bird species like the little owl, mistle thrush, spotted flycatcher, long-tailed tit or tree sparrow. Or, for that matter, the long-eared bat. Or wild plants and grasses...
Orchards, particularly the standard orchards preferred by many artisan cider and perry makers, are oases in the pesticide-stripped desert of the modern countryside. Orchards are home to much of our remaining unimproved (ie not yet ploughed and sprayed) grassland, and the species of plants, insects, birds and mammals that live in it. Orchards are vital to bees.
Thanks to Common Ground and Apple Day we've come to appreciate our orchards in the last twenty years, but they are only there (for the most part) because their owners make money from the fruit - less than £100 a tonne, but still enough to make it worth carrying on. The fruit is bought (for the most part) by cider makers. No cider makers, no orchards.
As it stands the vast majority of cider in the UK is made by two companies: Bulmers, which is owned by Heineken, and CIC, Irish owner of Magners and Gaymers. These companies make cider because it's a decent business to be in, or will be until Sunday night. At the moment they use fruit - or a proportion of their fruit - from English orchards because it's worth their while, but they could just as easily buy in apple concentrate from somewhere else - Central Europe or China.
I'm not saying they will, but they could. And if they do, orchard owners will have little choice but to grub up their trees and plant something more profitable.
As for the small producers... We'll come back to them