British Agriculture and Food Labelling

Part of Opposition Day — [6th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 8:01 pm on 24th February 2009.

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Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State (Farming and the Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 8:01 pm, 24th February 2009

My hon. Friend is right to mention security of supply, which covers at least two areas. One is the need to ensure that we farm in a way that is environmentally sustainable in the long term—that is one way of ensuring food security. A second is the need to understand what is happening in some of the sectors to ensure that, as we mentioned when discussing the Competition Commission's concerns, there is not an undue level of power and that the risk in a food supply chain is not borne disproportionately by one part of it.

That is why I hope that drawing from the model that the Dairy Supply Chain Forum has used for many years and using the same approach in the pig industry, following on from the Select Committee's recommendations, will allow us to understand the pressures within the whole food supply chain, so that we can bring about a more sustainable and secure sector, within which confidence grows. The farmers, in particular, tell me that they fear that confidence levels are not as good as they should be. [Interruption.] The representatives of the British pig industry also tell me that it is a very vibrant industry where a lot of good work is going on and that we should be careful not to talk the industry down to the point where new blood is reluctant to come into it because people do not have confidence about security. [Interruption.] All the points being raised from the Conservative Benches are precisely why we need to examine that detail.

The way forward that we are proposing will not impose unnecessary burdens on the supply chain. While we will work with our international partners to deliver clear and unambiguous labelling provisions across the Community, we will engage with the whole domestic supply chain to deliver improvements before EU regulations come into force. What that means in practice is working with the Pig Meat Supply Chain Task Force—I have mentioned it more than once this evening—which I announced at the National Farmers Union annual general meeting last week, to identify practical solutions to improve labelling, not just for retail sales, but in the hospitality sector. I anticipate that the work the taskforce will do will be able to be applied across other sectors of the food chain.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have been pressing retailers to use the Food Standards Agency's best practice guidance across their ranges. That guidance was extensively consulted on, reviewed in November and is already a tougher standard than that set down by the European Commission. We will continue to hold processors and retailers to account, while recognising the valuable strides that they have taken to tackle this issue.

We have helped Departments to buy local food—my hon. Friend Mr. Drew rightly emphasises the importance of local food. Did the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs even know that anyone who has milk in their tea or eats an egg in a Department is supporting the British food industry? That is not to say that I am complacent and that there is not more to do. All the practical measures I have mentioned will have a greater impact on helping consumers back the British farmer if they want to do so than the hon. Gentleman's costly and bureaucratic solution. That is why I urge the House to support the Government's amendment and reject his ill-thought-out proposals.

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