British Agriculture and Food Labelling

Part of Opposition Day — [6th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 8:34 pm on 24th February 2009.

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Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Shadow Secretary of State (Environment) 8:34 pm, 24th February 2009

My hon. Friend is right. We are talking about farm gate prices and the exploitation of the farmers whom Mr. Benyon claims to represent and to stand up for. We are talking about a visible hand in the marketplace to ensure fairness—something we are not hearing from the other two parties.

A year ago, in DEFRA questions, I asked the Secretary of State to introduce a mandatory food labelling scheme, and I know that I was not the first to do so. The problem then, and now, is that without a regulator to enforce such a scheme, it would have limited impact. British farmers struggle because of the economic system in which they operate. Clear labelling would give consumers choice and allow British farms to take proper advantage of their high standards, but it would not change the reality, which is that our food market is dysfunctional and hopelessly unfair.

British consumers and British farmers are disadvantaged by the overwhelming market power of the huge retailers and processors. In response to this situation, others have called for a relatively passive market ombudsman, as we have already discussed. The person in that position would oversee the market and investigate complaints. Like the motion, that is okay as far as it goes, but I want to see something far more powerful. In other words, I want to see the introduction of a supermarket and food market regulator that will ensure fair prices and fair practice with regard to all produce—a strong and enforceable code covering the full range of grocery outlets, backed by a robust and proactive enforcement mechanism that would allow a labelling scheme such as the one suggested by Nick Herbert to work. The work of a proactive regulator would also prevent powerful players in the market from abusing their power.

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