29 March 2002

Blair gives nod to joint food chain venture

By Tom Allen-Stevens

PRIME Minister Tony Blair has given the go-ahead for a new Food Chain Centre – a collaborative venture between farmers, processors and retailers.

The venture was one of the proposals put forward by the policy commission report on farming and food in January and endorsed at a "working meeting" between DEFRA ministers and industry leaders that took place in Downing Street on Tuesday (Mar 26).

A total of eight proposals were endorsed and backed by £6.8m of government money.

"Today is only the first step," said DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett. "But one of the most encouraging things about the meeting was the number of different players who came together to effect the changes recommended by the policy commission."

Mrs Beckett stressed that the emphasis would be on the government working with industry to make the changes. Modulation was not addressed, however. Mrs Beckett said no announcement would be made until after this summers government spending review had been completed.

The Food Chain Centre will be joint-funded by government and retailers, with £300,000 of state cash to kick start the process. Its remit is to build a greater degree of collaboration into the food chain, starting with a series of bench-marking exercises.

A further £5m will also be made available over the next 12 months for projects which improve market performance and competitiveness.

These will again target collaborative ventures and benchmarking exercises, as well as assurance schemes.

Chairman of the farming and food commission, Sir Donald Curry, said he was pleased at the number of recommendations that were being taken forward. "I made up a list of those I thought could be adapted quickly before the spending review. Most of these have been addressed."

He also urged farmers to take to heart the collaborative emphasis of the new initiatives. "The aim of the Food Chain Centre is to bring farmers together with processors and offer solutions that will benefit all. Farmers cannot hope to realise opportunities on their own."

NFU leader Ben Gill, who attended the meeting, said the proposals were a chance for farmers to take control of their own destiny, but pointed out that few were new initiatives. "We were talking about these proposals two years ago. What we need now is action."

He said he was disappointed there was no mention of non-food crops and said that here the UK was lagging way behind Europe . &#42

CLA deputy president Mark Hudson said the Food Chain Centre should help address profitability issues. "The food chain as a whole is profitable, but one part of it is struggling. Hopefully this should now be addressed."

Sir Donald outlined his views on the future face of UKfarming.

&#8226 An action plan to tackle illegal meat imports.

&#8226 A £1.5m grant for the red meat sector, to help improve the supply chain and strengthen competitiveness.

&#8226 An industry-led scheme (the English Collaborative Board) to encourage farmers to work together.

&#8226 An initiative to encourage smaller processors and retailers to apply the Code of Practice on Supermarkets Dealings with Suppliers.

&#8226 A pilot network of demonstration farms to champion environmentally-friendly farming.

&#8226 An organic food and farming action plan to be in place by July.

&#8226 DEFRA has also agreed to review agri-environment schemes, animal health strategy and training and education.