|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
My right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) talked about his allotment. I cannot resist pulling his leg: I know he is an expert on all agricultural matters, but he did tell the House that he was talking to his slugs and snails, which made me chuckle. He also talked about the horticulture industry and melting leeks, the limits of climate change, andmost importantthe world food summit. I listened carefully and with enjoyment to what he said about the President of Madagascars speech, about the fact that we talk about improving agriculture but do not actually do it, about the way in which countries can help themselves if they are allowed to, and, of course, about the endless demand for a level
playing field. I know that my constituents will be sad to learn that DEFRA was not represented at the conference, as I think they would rather it was abroad than at home.
The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) described himself as the anti-science Member, which worried me somewhat. He also told us that we had abused foodI was not sure what he meantand talked about things being in the round, from which I assume that he had eaten what he should not have eaten. He talked about school food and nutritional education, which I agree is an important subjectas is Washington states support for local production. I believe that if we address ourselves to local procurement, we can make a huge impact and send out all the right signals. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the present position is a disgrace.
The speech that I considered most powerful was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon), who knew exactly what he was talking about. He spoke of opportunity, understanding agriculture and the undervaluation of the dairy farmer. I think we all agree with that. He talked with great sadness of how he was being driven out of dairy farming by the nitrate vulnerable zone regulations, and I too thought that that was deeply sad. He also talked about the single farm payment, the nationalisation of the use of land and, of course, his own award-winning role as a conservationist. It was an extremely helpful and powerful speech, and it was sad that my hon. Friend could not continue for longer. It was really good to hear about an experience of that kind. I hoped that what he said about raptor breeding in Scotland related to golden eagles, but I suspect that it involved a lesser species.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) talked of the crisis in agriculture, and mentioned his constituent Chris Balmer. No one should miss the chance to emphasise the importance of what our constituents are suffering as a result of TB and rural payments. My hon. Friend spoke passionately about the dairy farming sector, of which he is a strong advocate, and about the number of cows being culled because they have TB.
I do not think anyone has been left in any doubt that global food supplies and prices matter, because we live in an uncertain world in which global demand for food is rising and supplies are under pressure. The cost of the basicswheat, rice and other cerealsis rising, and the increasing cost of fertiliser, energy and fuel is making food more expensive to produce and buy. Consumers are facing record food prices, while farmers and food producers are being squeezed because the increasing food production overheads are forcing up the costs of bringing food from farm to fork. We can no longer take it for granted that plenty of food will be available at low prices. In the last year alone, prices paid by consumers for food have risen dramatically. Butter and eggs are up by more than a third, bread by more than a quarter, flour by more than one fifth, and milk and cheese by one sixth.
Regulation has placed an enormous burden on our farmers, costing the industry £500 million a year. The Government have already cost the industry more than £20 million in lost interest alone, and face a potential £300 million fine from the EU for failing to deliver the single farm payment on time. They believe that if British consumers have access to food, the food security issue is resolved, but at this time our country cannot continue
to rely on an increasing supply of food imports. There are steps that the Government should be taking to improve domestic food production.
Food procurement is the key. The Government have tremendous resources at their disposal to back British production through the £2 billion budget for public procurement, but with just 5 per cent. of British fruit being served in the NHS and our armed forces being fed with lamb that is just 13 per cent. British, it is clear that the public sector could do more to support local food production, or at least take steps towards a system whereby food that is publicly procured is produced to standards that are acceptable in Britain so that our producers can compete.
Red tape is another crucial issue, and the Government fail to understand it. They must end gold-plating, and they can start by listening to farmers telling them about the impacts of the nitrates directive, which will cost farmers on average about £11,000 each, as well as the shift from risk to hazard-based pesticides, which will have a disproportionate effect on yields, and welfare standards and labelling.
Happily, British consumers want to buy British, as they recognise the higher welfare standards to which our livestock is produced. The public demand those standards and our farmers deliver them, but meat cheaply imported and then sold as Britishsometimes labelled as British because it is processed hereis all too often produced in conditions that fall well below the standards we would find legally and morally acceptable. This greatly disadvantages our own domestic food producers, and to counteract that the Government should be pressing the EU and the WTO to raise standards around the world. Then British producers could out-compete as standards rise, rather than see animal welfare dragged down by price to the lowest common denominator. The Government should also establish a better and more honest system of food labelling.
Robert Key: On food labelling, is my hon. Friend aware of another fabrication being perpetrated on the British consumer: the fact that smoked food does not have to be smoked? Most smoked bacon is dipped in chemicals and has never been near a whiff of smoke. Is that not astonishing?
Bill Wiggin: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is a shame because we all try to support British food when we go shopping, but if we do not have honesty in labelling, how can we possibly direct our purchasing power in the right direction?
I want the industry to be much more deeply involved in the key policy and operational decisions, and rather than shy away from hard choices I think now is an opportune moment to reinvigorate this debate.
If anyone is shying away from hard choices on disease control, it is this Government. They have dithered and failed to take the tough decisions on tackling TB so that we can have healthy cattle as well as healthy wildlife.
From an animal welfare point of view alone, I cannot see how the Government can justify the suffering caused by leaving sick badgers to crawl around, excluded from their own social groups, fighting and possibly infecting
other social groups of badgers through scratches, and then slowly dying, riddled with lesions that start in the bladder. That is inhumane, and we need to face up to our responsibilities to tackle this infection in order to protect our healthy badger population. Of course we should be acting responsibly towards our wild animals, but the taxpayers are footing a £100 million bill each year for culling infected cattle, and this bill looks set to rise inexorably higher. This situation cannot continue.
Much of our debate has focused on land-based food production, but the incompetent way the Government regulate food production extends beyond the land we farm and into our fisheries, which we must manage sustainably. Like our farmers, our brave fishermen are under tremendous financial pressure. They have fuel costs, which have doubled over the past year, and while fishermen in Spain are receiving de minimis aid from the Government, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is in no position to support our fishing industry. The industry should be having access to £97 million of the European fisheries fund that we are entitled to, but because the Government failed to agree with the devolved Administrations how the money should be spent and failed to submit their operational programme to the European Commission by last year, and are in the middle of consulting the industry on itsomething they should have been doing this time last yearthis money will not be available until later this year, and some of it might even be withheld.
Moreover, because the Government have not produced a policy to tackle fish discards, edible fish that could be sold to British consumers is being thrown back into the sea dead, and this precious food resource is wasted with no value to anyone. Food securityalong with energy security, climate change and terrorismis one of the major challenges of the 21st century. It matters to the public, to food producers on land and sea, and to our economy. To deliver it, we need competitive, viable and sustainable British food production fit for the 21st century. We also need a Government who have the political will to take the steps to help our food producers and free them to feed the nation.
At the next general election, the public will have a choice between a Conservative party that truly values British food producers and consumers, or more years of misery, dithering and ruin under Labour.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): This has been a good and welcome debate. We welcome the remarks from the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and the way he set out the key issues facing not just this nation but the world, in terms of how we tackle a rising population and the demands on our food.
Many Members made important contributions, and particular reference was made to the European Union. Members from all parts of the House frequently say, Why arent we doing this in Europe? Why arent we doing that? What about nitrates, pesticides, electronic identification? Why arent you telling the other member states what to do? Grandstanding is all very well, but
Members really know that what we have to do is to make hard, solid arguments. On looking at the direction of travel of common agricultural policy reform, we see that many member states do not agree with us. They take a more protectionist line, and it is we who are in the vanguard of CAP reform. It is the UK Government who are shifting the subsidy for food production to public goods, so we are working hard on that issue and making good progress.
Many Members made important contributions on what farmers and the farming community have done for our environment, and rightly so. This year is the 21st year of agri-environment schemes, which have been enormously successful. Many Members will doubtless have seen very imaginative schemes on farms in their own constituencies. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) referred in an intervention to pesticides. I visited a farm recently where the farmer had a stewardship scheme. He had put in a border that was encouraging ladybirds. Of course, the ladybirds eat the aphids, so he was spending less money on fertilizer and pesticides. Such simple measures have led to enormous achievements, so we congratulate the farming community on its contribution in that regard.
Several Members mentioned supermarkets, and the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) referred to the discussion between supermarkets and the Competition Commission. He criticised the fact that, when supermarkets had tried to increase the amount of money that they paid to farms for good reasons, they were fined by the Competition Commission. My noble Friend Lord Rooker wants a dialogue, and we should surely be able to have a mature dialogue involving producers, the Government and the supermarkets that does not breach competition rules. That is a sensible idea and I know that he is taking it forward.
Many Members talked about the World Trade Organisation, and we welcomed what the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said in that regard. He said that he agrees with us on protectionism, which we, too, do not want to see. Now is the time that we need to take forward the WTO, not least because a deal could be worth an estimated €120 billion to the global economy annually. That is €30 billion for the EU economy alone. We need to reform the agricultural policy, which undermines the ability of poorer countries to produce and trade agricultural goods and keeps prices high for EU consumers. Further CAP reform would reduce the prices that UK consumers pay for food. In 2007, the cost of the CAP to consumers was €33.4 billion.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) referred to the single farm payment. We are making good progress on that, and it is the right policy because it is area-based and allows farmers to respond to the market. He is right to say that the EU is an important player in global food production. As the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said, we too have that responsibility. We will continue to be a contributor to the world, and we will of course support Africa and develop its agricultural industry, as mentioned by the right hon. Member for Flyde in a thought-provoking speech[ Interruption.] I mean the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack). I was thinking about his reference to snails and wondering whether he meant the members of the Select Committee, but I am sure that he would not be so rude. He made the important point that there
has not been enough focus on agriculture in Africa, and the World Bank is now concentrating on that in a more effective way.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire mentioned the men and women who work in agriculture. One group that has not been mentioned in this debate is migrant labour. We introduced the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, and hon. Members will remember the cockle pickers in Morecambe. It was right to introduce legislation on that issue and we pay tribute to Paul Whitehouse and the work that he has done in collaboration with the trade unions and supermarkets. That has made a real difference to ensuring that we have floors of decency in the sector, in our packing sheds and fields. Migrant labour makes an important contribution without which this country would not be so strong in food production. We should point that out whenever possible. That is what farmers tell us, and it is an important point.
Hon. Members mentioned biofuels, and we anticipate the Gallagher report. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire appears to have read it already, as he gave us a sneak preview. He obviously has good sources. We will bring that report forward shortly, and we need to tackle the issue of first and secondary biofuels.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) made an important contribution, focusing on the work of scientists. He told us how fertiliser was invented in 1908 and what a huge contribution it has made to the yield we can get from our land. He also talked about how we need more research on, for example, how we use water and chemicals in the farming industry.
Jonathan Shaw: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently gave the go-ahead to a trial involving potatoes, but sadly they were vandalised[ Interruption.] They were mashed, someone suggests.
We live in a world of contradictions, in that we have some of the finest food we have ever producedas hon. Members who have visited agricultural shows will have seenbut we are also producing some of the worst. It is important for supermarkets to be conscious of the primary producer. Asda is producing sausages, which it cannot even call pork sausages, for 16p and it should consider its responsibilities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) talked about educating children about food. I pay tribute to the year of food and farming which has made a huge contribution by bringing thousands of children on to farms so that they understand that food is not produced neatly wrapped in cellophane by supermarkets, but grown and reared on our farms.
The hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) referred to animal diseases, and we are grateful for the partnership arrangement for bluetongue. Hon. Members referred to TB. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make a decision on that[Hon. Members: When?]
Very soon. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) referred to his experience as a dairy farmer and to Thanet Earth. Food security
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|