Making his debut to the agricultural industry at the Royal Show on Monday (July 2), Mr Benn said he was keen to listen to farmers to make positive changes to the industry and said people should judge him on his actions rather than his decision not to eat meat.
“Farming is at the heart of our society and culture and I can see there is fantastic food being produced,” Mr Benn told a packed room of show delegates and journalists.
“Even though I am a vegetarian of 35 years my family always tell me of the tasty food I am missing out on.
“But I am sure the farming community will judge me by what I do and not by what I eat. I will fight for the industry and represent all sectors equally.
“I have good conversations with meat processors already, and if we work on the basis of mutual respect, I respect farmers immediately, so we are going to get on just fine.”
Admitting he still had a lot to learn about British agriculture, Mr Benn said his international policy experience meant he understood the importance of the farming community.
“Even though I have visited pig farms in Malawi and cattle herds in Ethiopia, there are similarities,” he said. “Wherever you are in the world, it’s not just about food but also about looking after rural communities and the environment.
“I don’t know all the details of the challenges you face, but I know bovine TB and badger control is one I will be considering very carefully.”
Joking that Jeff Rooker was the only DEFRA minister to survive Gordon Brown’s reshuffle, Mr Benn said he and his new team were also looking forward to helping farmers address their carbon emissions.
The UK’s fledgling biofuels industry and food security were other issues Mr Benn highlighted as important.
Mr Benn said he was conscious SFP delivery was not perfect, but it was important to recognise that progress had been made. “I’m grateful for your patience and support,” he said.