David Cameron became the first serving prime minister to make an official visit to the Royal Welsh Show when he stopped by at the showground in Builth Wells on Monday (21 July).
During his visit, Mr Cameron (pictured with first minister of Wales Carwyn Jones) spoke to Farmers Weekly deputy news editor Philip Case about why the government must stand by the controversial badger cull to tackle bovine TB, how we can mitigate plunging beef prices, CAP reform, and why he sacked Defra secretary Owen Paterson.
Q: Mr Cameron, are you happy with the progress on bovine TB in Wales and in England?
A: Obviously, I’m not happy in that we are still losing so many cattle to this awful disease. The vision is there. What we want is healthy cattle and healthy badgers.
What I think you get from this government is an absolute iron determination to take the right decisions – even if they are difficult and unpopular. And that’s why it’s so important that we complete the pilot culls that are taking place and why I’ve been so personally insistent about that. I think it’s right to say that when we look at how TB has been dealt with across the world, it usually requires a combination of measures – movement restrictions and all the rest of it. But also a limited amount of culling in the wildlife population that carries it [the disease]. The commitment is there.
Am I happy with how things are going? Well, I’m happy that the pilots are going ahead. But obviously, we need to deal with this dreadful disease. To those who oppose this, I would make two points. First, if we don’t succeed, we are set to spend £1bn over the next decade on destroying cattle – and that is a huge amount of money. The second thing is, for those that care about animal rights, is that this is a miserable disease for badgers.
The whole point of this strategy is to have healthy badgers and healthy cattle and that is what we are absolutely committed to do. In terms of Wales, we will have to watch carefully the vaccination trials and study the figures. I was talking to Carwyn Jones about it this morning.
Q: Owen Paterson was very liked in farming circles – why did you decide to sack him?
A: Well, he did a good job and he was a strong spokesman for British food and farming and the countryside. But in any government you need to move people on sometimes and bring in fresh talent.
I think Liz Truss will be an absolutely excellent secretary of state for agriculture and food. She’s at a farming constituency herself in Norfolk. She has shown great interest in this industry. And I think she will work extremely hard.
Owen did a good job, but you know, you do have to move talent through your ranks and that’s what I’ve done. It’s also worth making the point that I am a prime minister with a very large rural constituency, and a very active NFU branch, who give me the benefit of their very good advice regularly. I spend time talking to and listening to farmers in my own constituency and I hope people know they have a prime minister who takes a close interest in these issues as well.
Q: There are increasing amounts of imported beef coming into this country now that is being used by retailers. Do you feel they have lived up to their post-horsegate pledges? And would you consider government intervention if prices keep tumbling?
A: What we want to do is back British food production and back British farming and find more ways in which we can do that. I think today’s announcement – that we are going to make the central government purchasing market much more friendly to local producers – will make a difference.
The figures speak for themselves. The public sector buys £1.2bn of food a year. Half of that is currently imported and we think that some £400m of that £600m could be available to British farmers if we changed the way we procure and encourage local sourcing, seasonal sourcing and so on. That could be a big boost to British beef producers, as well as lamb and poultry and others.
But it doesn’t stop there. I think we need a big movement in favour of British food. That, in the end, relies on British consumers going into British shops – whether that’s butchers or supermarkets – and wanting to have British-produced food. It is now the cleanest, safest and some of the highest-quality meat in the world – and that’s what we should do.
In terms of some of the support the farmers get, we did a reasonable deal in terms of the agricultural reforms in Europe. We tried to make sure that the nations of the UK could tailor the arrangements that best suit them. I wanted to push very hard to make sure we didn’t have the full 15% modulation and I’m glad we achieved that in England. It’s something I pushed for very, very strongly.
Q: Every time we get a new CAP it gets more complex. It’s getting beyond the better-than-average farmer to cope with all the paperwork and the bureaucracy. What do you think about this?
A: I have every sympathy with farmers on this. I think there are two things we have got to do. One is, where we can implement these rules flexibly and give farmers greater flexibilities to use discretion, where we can do that, we will.
Second, where we can look at all the regulations the farmers have to meet and work out which ones are no longer fit for purpose, we should also do that. The Red Tape Challenge, led by Oliver Letwin, a member of parliament with a large rural constituency, has been successful. We have got rid of quite a lot of regulations farmers were suffering from. That’s the pledge.
But I do understand the genuine concern that the CAP has got a lot of complicated bells and whistles that are added, which makes it very hard for farmers to know whether they are doing the right thing. We shall try to make it simple and introduce discretion wherever we can.
See also: Cameron unveils £400m local food drive