I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and add:
"considers that British consumers should have the information that they need in order to make the choices they want when they buy their food;
notes that the European Commission has rejected a recent proposal from the Irish Government for national mandatory country of origin labelling for meat and meat products;
believes that clear and unambiguous labelling stating the country of origin of the major ingredients for meat and meat products would level the playing field for British farmers and enable British consumers to show a preference for food which is produced to high standards of animal welfare, health and safety and environmental protection;
agrees that where supermarkets and retailers comply with the Food Standards Agency's guidance on country of origin labelling that this is to the benefit of their consumers;
and further believes that the best way to back British consumers and British producers is to support the Government's calls for tougher and clearer country of origin labelling across Europe."
I am grateful to the official Opposition for initiating the debate today. After all, it is national potato day and pancake Tuesday, so it is appropriate that we are having the debate. I depart from the view expressed by my hon. Friend Rob Marris, as I think this is an interesting debate, and I welcome Nick Herbert to his new post. I hope that he enjoys a long and happy career as Opposition spokesman. If his performance today is anything to go by, he will do extremely well. I look forward to crossing swords with him on many occasions.
I wrote to the hon. Gentleman about this, but may I express apologies from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is out of the country and unable to return for the debate? As the hon. Gentleman will know from his visit to the National Farmers Union conference last week, agricultural production and the sustainability of that production are a hot topic in discussions in the industry. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his speech to the NFU:
"The best way for us to safeguard our food security in the 21st century will be through strong, productive and sustainable British agriculture, trading freely with other nations."
I shall address the debate rather narrowly, although there are many issues that we could discuss under its title. I think that it would be helpful to the House if I addressed some of the immediate points, particularly around the issue of labelling.
We take agricultural production very seriously and we want British farmers to produce as much food as possible. That is not about targets for domestic production or self-sufficiency. We are a trading nation. Some of the food that we grow we export—nearly £12 billion-worth in 2007. The food that we import—mainly things that we cannot grow here—is really important too. This is about productive, efficient farming, the higher yielding seeds, better irrigation and more sustainable use of fertilisers that have transformed agriculture in parts of the world.
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