Access to Food

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons on 25th July 2019.

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Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Chair, Committee of Selection, Chair, Selection Committee

What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on helping to ensure that everyone has access to (a) safe, (b) healthy and (c) affordable food.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Ministers and officials regularly discuss all aspects of food security, including accessibility. We have long-established relationships with industry and work collaboratively to ensure that the UK continues to have access to safe, nutritious and affordable food from a wide range of sources, particularly from British farmers. I plan to visit the Game Fair tomorrow, so I will make a plug for British game and the grouse that will be coming into our larders following the glorious twelfth.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Chair, Committee of Selection, Chair, Selection Committee

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer, particularly because my newly appointed right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has not had a chance to speak to her Cabinet colleagues. The problem with safe food is that we need to be able to read on the label that it is safe. Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died because she ate food that was contaminated with sesame seeds, but the label did not make that clear. We still have a problem in this country with honesty in labelling. Can more be done, to ensure that the label says what it is?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Clear labelling is vital, particularly when it comes to ingredients that may provoke allergic reactions. We have learned a very sad lesson from that situation, and the Government have responded.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

On the subject of the Game Fair, it is very sad that Chris Packham has been banned from attending to speak out against grouse shooting. I would have thought that the Minister would welcome free speech on the subject.

On food, the Government grant for school meals has not risen in the last five years. It is £2.30 per pupil. It is really difficult to provide nutritious meals for children for that amount. Can he speak to the Secretary of State for Education about that?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will certainly speak to the new Secretary of State for Education, a fellow Scarborian, to discuss that issue. It is very important that we have good, nutritious school meals available for children.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

It is a great pleasure to see the new Secretary of State in her place. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Michael Gove for all the work he did on agriculture. I want to emphasise that, as we produce food in the future, we can have a better environment, but let us use all the technologies and everything available so that we can have affordable, safe food.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Yes, absolutely. There are a number of new technologies that we can use, not least the opportunities that gene editing may offer to produce healthier, more productive crops in our fields.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

I welcome the new Secretary of State to her place. Changes to the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (England) Regulations 2018, in line with changes to EU rules for ovine age identification, would go a long way to helping ensure access to safe and healthy food and would help our farmers, but I am repeatedly being fobbed off with an excuse that a consultation will be coming soon. When will we see it?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Having spent a lot of my life looking into sheep’s mouths in ageing them, I know how important it is to ensure that we have a system that we can demonstrate clearly does not present any risk to health. We were keen to move away from carcase splitting. We took a precautionary approach because of the delays in delivering Brexit, but I hope we can make progress once we have left the European Union.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Conservative, Romsey and Southampton North

Access to food also requires access to labour to plant, care for and pick it. Over the last year, I have had many representations from farmers in my constituency and from the National Farmers Union. What representations is my right hon. Friend making to Cabinet colleagues advocating a points-based system to make sure that that has sufficient flex so that there is access to labour not just seasonally, but all year round?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My right hon. Friend and I are both former Immigration Ministers, so we know this issue. Indeed, one of the points made to me at the Fruit Focus event was the need to access labour to pick our fruit. The pilot scheme that my right hon. Friend brought forward during her time at the Home Office is a step in the right direction, but we do need to ensure we can have the workforce to pick the fruit, particularly given the weakness of the pound and the fact that perhaps not all European Union citizens are as attracted to come to the UK as they were.