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In the long term, such issues could be, or should be, addressed in the world trade talks, but in the short term we must ensure that the consumer knows the full facts. However, food labelling law does not allow that. Apart from beef and honey, there is no obligation for food to be labelled with the true country of origin: that can either be avoided altogether or the label can merely represent the place where the food was last processed. So, British ham or pork may not be from a British pig. If that were to be corrected, our industry could properly
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market its strengths, but there is one customer whose buying power is greater than that of any other—the Government.

About £2 billion of taxpayers’ money is spent on food and drink by the Government and their Departments and agencies, yet the proportion of it that is British is woeful. Only 5 per cent. of NHS orchard fruit is British. The Ministry of Defence sources absolutely no British bacon. There are many other pathetic examples. Of course, Ministers will say that we are not allowed to insist on British products. That is true, but there is nothing wrong whatever with insisting that products are produced to British standards. What hypocrisy we have in a Government whose Ministers regularly proclaim the little red tractor as a logo demonstrating good-quality food, but who are complicit in spending taxpayers’ money on food that is not produced to those self-same standards.

On animal health, the Government have consulted on sharing the cost of disease control. That is not a bad idea at all until we realise that, in its current form, it means that farmers should pay the cost of DEFRA’s mistakes. It is no coincidence that the proposal appeared just after last year’s foot and mouth chaos. True cost sharing can work only if there is genuine sharing of decision making and planning for disease control, and if the Government recognise their unique responsibilities. They are the only organisation who can properly protect our borders against illegal meat imports and the disease risk that they bring. It is estimated that an average of some 12,000 tonnes of illegal meat comes in each year.

The Government must also deal with the crisis of bovine tuberculosis. After 11 years of almost total inaction, there is no prospect of the disease coming under control. Indeed, it is getting worse. On figures for this year so far, we can see that 40,000 cattle have been slaughtered compared with just 28,000 last year. What a waste. What a tragedy for the farmers who see their breeding programmes disrupted and their businesses driven to the wall.

The Government know what has to be done: there must be a comprehensive programme, as we have spelled out before, but it must include addressing the reservoir in wildlife. We on the Conservative Benches want to see healthy wildlife alongside healthy cattle, but in parts of the country we have neither, while we have a Secretary of State who seems to want to compete with the Prime Minister as chief ditherer.

Finally, the Government have a responsibility—

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we have to deal with the reservoir in wildlife. The question is how we deal with it. Perhaps he will give us his thoughts.

Mr. Paice: I recommend that the hon. Gentleman read the report of the Select Committee of which he is a member. His own Committee has produced part of the answer and I have spelt it out on many an occasion. I am happy to do so again on some other occasion. Going through the whole programme would take a long time—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): So that is a no, then.

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Mr. Paice: No, it is not a no at all. I strongly support the Select Committee proposals, which demonstrate a way forward. The key thing is that we must tackle the reservoir in wildlife. That, of course, is code for badgers. There is no point in hiding that. We need to look at selectively culling badgers in the hot-spot areas. That is one of the proposals made by the Committee of which the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) is a member.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): I sensed that my hon. Friend was drawing to a conclusion when he used the word “finally”. There are two issues that, up to now, he has not mentioned and I would be grateful for an idea of his views on them.

First, the words “genetically modified” have not yet crossed my hon. Friend’s lips. What scope might there be to assist global production with that technology, and should British farmers have that piece of equipment in their toolkit? Secondly, the Government will have to address the big issue of how environmental schemes will continue to be funded at a time of rapidly rising commodity prices, which have changed entirely the economics for farmers. For example, we no longer have set-aside. What are his thoughts on that crucial issue? None of us wants to return to the intensive production methods that are now a generation old.

Mr. Paice: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who will not be surprised to hear that there are a lot of issues that I have not included in my speech, which would otherwise have been even longer, but I am happy to take him up on those two points.

Our position on GM is quite straightforward. First, it has to depend on consumer demand. The ultimate decision must be taken by the consumer. We see the need for all GM developments to be considered individually. It is wrong to lump the whole GM debate together, because it depends on the merit or demerit of a particular development. There must be proper testing for food safety and environmental safety. We need to ensure that rules on crop separation, liability and such things are sorted. Subject to those requirements, GM crops have a role to play. Whether people want to grow those crops is up to them, as is whether they think there is a market for such production.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Should they be allowed to?

Mr. Paice: That is what I have just described. I will come back to the issue of funding, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry).

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is being generous in giving way. He is right about UK food production being vital for the food security of our country—I certainly agree with him there—and I am interested to hear what he says about GM foods. Will he set out his party’s policies on the controversial issue of biofuels? What policies should the Government pursue to adapt to the climate change to which he referred—adapting in a way that builds and increases our food security? What measures should be taken?

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Mr. Paice: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for some of the things I have said. The issue of biofuels has to be based on sustainability. It is clear in the Gallagher report of last week, or whenever it was, that they are not sustainable. In fact, we do not yet have the report; I am jumping the gun. I think we will find that the Gallagher report suggests that they are not sustainable. If you want to know where the leak happened, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it happened here. It is clear that sustainability is the key element, which is why we voted against the renewable transport fuels obligation. We believe that, at present, insufficient sustainability has been built in, but biofuels have a role to play and they should not be ditched completely if they can be made sustainable.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Paice: I am conscious of having taken a lot of time, but I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Andrew George: The hon. Gentleman has been extremely generous in giving way. He has mentioned buyer power, as well as the price of milk and the fact that the retail price was not being passed on to the producers. No doubt he will have followed the results of the Competition Commission report on the grocery sector, and will be aware that it recommended not only strengthening the supermarket code of practice, but introducing a supermarket, rather than a grocery sector, ombudsman. If such an ombudsman were introduced, that would surely do a great deal to assist farmers and food producers in this country, and surely it would help food security in the UK. Is that the policy of the Conservatives?

Mr. Paice: If I had been able to return to my speech, my next sentence would have dealt with that issue, and I will return to the second point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon.

The Government have the responsibility to ensure that the market works fairly. As the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) has just pointed out, our supermarkets are all-powerful. They sell the vast majority of our food, and they will continue to do so. Those who think that if they shut their eyes the supermarkets will go away are fooling themselves. However, I believe that the balance of power is wrong. We are still awaiting the Government’s response to the Competition Commission’s proposals, which the commission said were in the interests of both farmers and consumers. Perhaps we are seeing even more dithering from the Government.

As for the hon. Gentleman’s idea about an ombudsman, self-regulation is closely involved in my party’s approach to these matters. We are waiting to see whether the Government endorse the idea, and whether they are prepared to say that if the industry cannot set up its own regulatory system, they will set one up instead. In the meantime, we are not making much progress.

Mr. Curry rose—

Mr. Paice: I have not yet answered my right hon. Friend’s other question, but I am about to do so, if he will allow me.

Mr. Curry: My point is about milk.

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Mr. Paice: In that case, I will give way.

Mr. Curry: I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the Competition Commission’s intervention in the price increase agreed by supermarkets for farmers some years ago has been entirely counter-productive? Supermarkets are now generally reluctant to contemplate increasing prices for farmers in case they are accused of complicity. The Food Standards Agency is having to broker an agreement with the competition authorities so that the dairy partnership can go ahead without the accusation that it is basically a price-fixing cartel.

Mr. Paice: I can only agree with my right hon. Friend. I am well aware of the situation that he has described, and I think that he is entirely right. I know that the supermarkets were upset by the criticism, because they thought that they were acting with the noblest of motives. It is a matter of judgment whether they achieved their objective, but, as he says, that criticism has seriously affected their willingness to do anything to help the industry in the future.

Let me say something about the environment, which is an important issue. Many people, including farmers, see it as an either/or issue. Farmers say to me, “Make up your mind: do you want us to produce food or do you want us to be park keepers?”—and use various other forms of vocabulary. I do not accept that interpretation. I believe that modern, efficient food production can be achieved alongside long-term care for our natural environment. There are many examples of good practice. Work by the organisation LEAF—Linking Environment And Farming—the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which has a demonstration farm on the edge of my constituency, shows that it can be achieved.

Transferring resources to environmental and development programmes in the second pillar of the common agricultural policy will target funds on activities that yield no market income for the farmer. That is the only way in which we can address the important point made by my right hon. Friend. Payments for entry-level stewardship at £30 a hectare were fine when wheat cost £60 a tonne, but represent no form of compensational carrot now that it costs more than double that. Nowhere is such action more essential than in our hills and uplands, where the landscape has been fashioned by farmers. Tourists visit those areas and biodiversity is considerable, yet economic and, indeed, social existence is often exceptionally fragile in a market economy. The need to recognise the contribution made in those areas is vital.

Domestic food production has regained an importance that is unprecedented since the end of the second world war. That approach has been taken not for selfish or protectionist reasons, but to ensure that this country does its bit to increase world food supplies and to help to restrain price rises for the countries and consumers who can least afford them. That is what the people are increasingly asking for; it is what farmers want to do; and—true—the Government say that it is what they want to do. However, if the best the Government can do is say that we are doing better than we were in the 1950s, they know in their heart that they have failed.

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We will never produce enough to meet all our needs, nor should we try, especially as concern about total carbon footprints plays an increasing part in our lives, but there is no reason why we cannot produce enough to meet the significant majority of our needs. We have some of the best land in the world and some of the most technically advanced farmers, but we also have a Government who seem obsessed with regulation and centralisation, and who therefore hinder rather than help those who want to get on with their business.

7.55 pm

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I beg to move, To leave out from “House” to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

I welcome the opportunity to debate food security. I also welcome the context of what was said by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), if not all the content. I will take his contribution in the spirit in which it was offered. I think that we need both to understand what is happening and why it is happening, and to agree what we should do in response, both internationally and at home.

Let me begin with the international aspect. As the hon. Gentleman said, the last 12 months has seen a remarkable increase in food prices across the globe. Demand for food has increased, one reason being the fact that more people in emerging economies are becoming better off. The world’s population is growing: by 2050, there may be another 2.5 billion mouths to feed on this planet of ours. Drought and changing weather conditions have hit yields. High energy prices, poor harvests in some places, speculation, biofuels and export bans have all pushed up prices. We have seen food riots in Haiti, Cameroon and Mexico. The whole House will be concerned about the fact that those price increases are pushing millions of people in the developing world further into poverty and hunger.

Despite the unprecedented prosperity in our world, it should weigh heavily on each and every one of us that even before the recent increases in food prices, 850 million people on the planet did not have enough food to eat every day, and that every five seconds, somewhere in the world, a child dies because it does not have enough to eat. Lives are lost for want of enough food, yet there is enough food in the world for everyone; it is just that the poorest cannot get enough of it, either because they have not enough money to buy it or because other circumstances deny them access to it. I shall say more later about the question of the future.

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It is not for nothing that Josette Sheeran, who heads the World Food Programme, has described what has been happening as “a silent tsunami”. The United Kingdom, along with others, has responded, giving a further £30 million to the World Food Programme’s emergency appeal. There is, however, a fundamental problem, which was referred to by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire: the need to increase production in the developing world. The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that global food production needs to rise by 50 per cent. by 2030 and to double by 2050 to meet the demands of a growing world population.

Mr. Drew: It is good to hear that the World Food Programme is putting more resources into Sudan, a country that my right hon. Friend and I know very well. Sadly, what we do not hear is that before the latest increase, the amount of resources given to the World Food Programme had been drastically cut. There may be reasons for that, but we never hear those silent voices. It is vital for us not only to play our part and make our own contribution, but to ask other countries to make their contributions too, in terms of not just words but actions.

Hilary Benn: I agree. Like a number of other countries, the United Kingdom has a long and honourable tradition of not just talking about what needs to be done, but putting money into it. I can say from my long experience of dealing with the World Food Programme that it is an outstanding organisation which delivers the most practical assistance to our fellow human beings in times of need. However, it deals with short-term emergencies. The question is: how are we going to increase global food production in what is literally a changing climate, because farmers throughout the world will have to contend with unreliable water supplies and the increasing frequency of droughts and floods? Food production will be affected by climate change, but it could also contribute to climate change if the wrong agricultural policies are adopted. The common agricultural policy, and agricultural support policies in countries such as the United States of America, keep prices high domestically and do not help poorer countries in the global economy; dumping subsidised produce on local markets does not exactly encourage and help farmers in those countries to produce. All of that is why we need a deal through the World Trade Organisation Doha round, and it is why I agree 100 per cent. with what the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire says about reform of the CAP through the health check. Indeed, at the recent meeting of the Agriculture Council I made the point about what we in the UK have done in decoupling. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support, but the problem is that there are others in the European Union who have to be persuaded that the path of reform is the right one to take.

On pesticides, the UK, along with the Irish and one other country, appear to be the only nations that have done the work and identified the potential problem, which is why I spoke in the way that I did when this matter came up at the recent meeting of the Agriculture Council, and we will return to it.

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