The Conservative party leader David Cameron has attacked the government’s farming policy, farming credentials and handling of the disease outbreaks.
Mr Cameron began by slating the government handling of single farm payments likening it to the current crisis facing the Northern Rock bank.
“Farming had its Northern Rock two years ago with the single farm payment,” he quipped.
“Cost to the taxpayer was £300m. It was a catastrophe, debacle, failure and disaster,” he told delegates.
He turned his sights on DEFRA’s disease cost sharing proposals.
“It’s fine in principle but the government has to get its own house in order first and to tackle disease, red tape and to reconnect farming with food buyers.”
“There have been 150 new regulations passed by this government. Red tape now costs the farming industry £500m a year which is hampering food production.”
Red tape he said was strangling farming and had led to a dramatic fall in food production such that self sufficiency had fallen from 72% to 60% between 1996 and 2008.
And that, he said, was a worrying prospect because food security was one of the biggest issues facing the modern world.
“It should be ranked alongside energy security and even national security.
Some within the government have said that there is not much need for food production in the UK. But the days of abundant food are coming to an end,” he warned.
As people in developing countries get richer so their diet changes. The shift to producing meat rather than grain will hit world food stocks and our ability to feed ourselves, Mr Cameron said.
China’s grain has decreased by 10% in seven years and that coupled with a global diversion to producing biofuels would lead to a global food crunch.
He offered a different approach based on a refocusing of British farmers to concentrate their efforts on food production.
He revealed a three-point plan. A Tory government would press for decoupled production across the EU to create a level playing field.
It would tackle red tape. Even in some instances reviewing policy such as the nitrates directive with the aim of making it less onerous.
His third point would be to reconnect farmers and shoppers.
The most important thing is rigorous and transparent food labelling. “Currently it is wrong and deceives consumers,” he said which drew loud and rapturous applause.