17 August 2001

Team will consult widely before making its report

SIR Don Curry is reluctant to talk about the finer details of what will be involved in his commission to determine the future of farming and food in England.

The former Meat and Livestock Commission chairman believes it is too early to say what might be included in his report, stressing only that his team will consult widely before submitting its recommendations at the end of December.

"We have a broad remit and we need to look at food production in England against the backdrop of EU and government policy," he says. "We need to try to determine how our food production can best compete in an international market-place."

Sir Don refuses to be drawn on issues of farm subsidies, saying only that the commission will "consider the current direction already laid out by Brussels". He is equally defensive when confronted with criticism that, as a farmer, he is too close to the industry to be involved in decision-making.

"There are advantages and disadvantages in my being a farmer. But my farming interests give me a keen insight into the financial pressure the industry is experiencing. It has also been said that although some people would prefer an independent chairman, at least I do not have to spend three months trying to understand the issues involved.

"The industry is feeling beleaguered and abandoned at the moment. The timing of this commission is important – farmers need to see very clearly what role they have to play and at the moment they do not have that direction. I will encourage the government to make the report public as soon as possible, but obviously our first responsibility is to deliver the report to Downing Street.

Sir Don adds: "We need to map out a plan for sustainable food and farming in this country. By that I mean sustainable in terms of the environment. We need a policy which does not harm our environment. We also need sustainability for our food chain so that businesses remain viable, otherwise we will not have a secure food supply.

"We hear consumers are willing to buy British food. What does it cost to produce a British loaf of bread compared with a similar product which has been imported? We need to find out exactly what the unit costs of production are and see whether there are ways of producing our food more efficiently and reducing production costs."

The commission will tour the regions to hear the views of all groups involved in the food chain, including animal welfare and consumer organisations, says Sir Don. He will also write to farm leaders and invite their comments on what they believe must be done to turn agriculture into a profitable industry once again. &#42

Wendy Owen

Policy Commission into Food and Farming

Chairman: Sir Don Curry

Terms of Reference: Will advise the government on the creation of a sustainable, competitive and diverse farming and food sector which contributes to a thriving and sustainable rural economy, advances environmental, economic, health and animal welfare goals. The commission will cover England only.

Timetable: To report to the Prime Minister by 31 December 2001.