TIM YEO, shadow environment and transport minister has paid tribute to farming, referring to it as ‘a vital industry‘ during his speech to the Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth.

But the main thrust of Mr Yeo‘s speech was a criticism of DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett and the governerment‘s policy on food production.

Mr Yeo said that farmers were being overwhelmed by red tape.

“There are now more bureaucrats in DEFRA than dairy farms in England and many of those that survive are threatened by the relentless spread of bovine TB,” said Mr Yeo.

He told delegates that bovine TB was out of control and that government ministers were to blame.

And he criticised the government‘s decision not to use the Protection of Badgers Act to licence culls in the worst-affected areas.

The onslaught on government policy continued as he focused on imported food saying that the government had allowed Britain‘s farmers to suffer from ‘unfair imports‘.

“Too much food is imported from countries that don‘t respect either the welfare of animals or the environment. The result is unfair competition for British farmers,” he said.

Mr Yeo made several promises that a Conservative government would, in its first month in office, publish a Bill to introduce honesty in labelling.

That would enable every consumer to know where and how their food was produced, he said.

It would also toughen up the Code of Practice to stop supermarkets exploiting farmers as well as simplifying the rules for the single farm payment, he added.

He also pledged that a Conservative government would abolish the Over Thirty Month Scheme and the Agricultural Wages Board, which Mr Yeo described as a ‘relic from a bygone era‘.