DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman has pledged to help farmers face the challenge of rising global demand for food.

Across the world, demand for food would increase by 70% in the next 40 years, she told the Conservative Party Conference on Monday (4 October).

“It’s the food and farming industry which has to face these challenges,” said Mrs Spelman. “But they were neglected under the last government.”

Labour had let down farmers and the whole rural way of life – leaving a legacy where many farmers and rural businesses still didn’t even have internet access.

Mrs Spelman said her DEFRA team – including farm minister Jim Paice and DEFRA minister Richard Benyon – had already made progress since taking office in May.

“Between us we’ve wasted no time getting stuck in over the last five months.

“We’ve grabbed the Rural Payments Agency by the scruff of the neck and started untangling the shambles we inherited.”

This shambles had cost taxpayers nearly £300m in fines and driven farmers to despair, she said.

The coalition government had also set about cutting away at the red tape that stopped farmers actually farming, said Mrs Spelman.

It was taking decisive action against bovine tuberculosis – a crisis which cost so much emotionally and financially, she added.

“Politicians can’t just duck the difficult decisions,” Mrs Spelman told delegates in Birmingham.

“We’re doing this so that our farmers can get on with doing what we need them to do: securing our food supply and stewarding our countryside.”

DEFRA was working on new measures to help government departments buy food to British standards, Mrs Spelman confirmed.

It was working with the industry on honest labelling so buyers could feel confident about where their food was coming from.

People wanted to known their food was grown without damage to the environment, she explained.

With CAP reform coming up, the government was going to fight its corner to get a good deal for farmers, consumers, taxpayers and the environment, Mrs Spelman added.