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.

Alert me about debates like this

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

That is indeed what I am proceeding to do.

To recap, we will support the Conservative motion, but it is important to highlight that we believe that accurate food labelling should be only one aspect of a more comprehensive approach to ensuring a fair market in food production. The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, to whom I pay tribute and whom I welcome to his new role—he made a strong and sound case for his motion—stated his belief in mandatory intervention, but that belief appears to start and end with accurate labelling. Indeed, he stated at the NFU conference last week that

"a culture of responsibility is better than a culture of regulation".

That sounds chillingly similar to the approach of his shadow Chancellor and, indeed, the Prime Minister ahead of the banking crisis, but I agree with Peter Kendall, the NFU president, who said that

"when there is proven abuse of the voluntary approach, and it has been tried and tested and failed, that tells me that regulation is urgently required".

The Conservatives have not chosen to debate British agriculture, as has been mentioned, and the wider fundamental and systemic problems that face our industry; instead, they have chosen to discuss a very important symptom of those problems. For what it is worth, the Conservative proposal on this issue mirrors ours—congratulations to them—but although we will support the motion, I cannot help but observe that it simply represents the party of the free market complaining about the consequences of the free market.

We need regulation that will help our farmers and consumers, and we need to be consistent in our demands for fairness throughout the market. How many of us go shopping and seek out Fairtrade coffee in one aisle, before heading down another aisle to buy milk to put in that coffee sourced from an exploited British dairy farmer who is paid less for that litre of milk than it cost them to produce it? I am passionate about ensuring fair trade for coffee growers in Colombia and for dairy farmers in Cumbria.

Of course, consumers can achieve a lot by buying Fairtrade produce and by buying British produce, and that is why it is so important that we have a comprehensive and mandatory food labelling system to empower consumers and to give them the information that they need to exercise choice, but consumer action is not enough. Farmers and consumers have the right to expect that their Government will be on their side, and now is the time to intervene and to take sides.

We take the side of farmers and consumers, not big business. I am not anti-market; but in food production as in banking, we want the market to be our servant, not our master. When we have huge fluctuations in production, short-sighted profit chasing by over-powerful supermarkets and farmers struggling to survive, the market is not working.

Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website