Labour vows to revamp farm policy

Shadow DEFRA minister, Mary Creagh, has vowed to push food and farming to the heart of Labour policy making.

Speaking at the party’s annual conference in Liverpool on Monday (26 September), Mrs Creagh said the party’s upcoming policy review needed to ensure quality, affordable food was available to consumers.

And she said UK farmers had to be given the opportunity to meet growing food demands while using resources carefully and managing the environment.

“I am concerned that food prices have gone up by 6% in the past year – that’s £350 a year increase,” she told delegates at an NFU and Food and Drink Federation fringe event.

“That’s not sustainable, especially when people have £11 less a week to spend than last year.”

She said the food plan her predecessor Hilary Benn wrote had been all but ignored by the current DEFRA team and that there had also been little action on the Foresight report, which looked at food production in 2020.

“We need to start putting in place the building blocks of Food 2020,” she said.

“If DEFRA won’t take up the challenge then we will.”

Shadow environment minister Willie Bain said any plans for growing the economy and the country had to have food at its heart.

“We will promote a revision of the Food 2020 strategy,” he told farmers and delegates.

“We need to begin a debate on how to incentivise farmers to make better use of water, to get the most out of things like Feed in Tariffs. We must have a proper strategy for growth in each region of the UK.”

Mr Bain said expenditure on research and development needed to be increased if farmers were going to increase the amount they produced with fewer inputs.

“We should be doing that research now,” he said. “Britain could blaze a trail in Europe if we push research now.”

He also called for spending on the Common Agricultural Policy to be redirected towards science and innovation.

“Farmers in Europe receive €55bn a year from the CAP and that will not be immune from reductions,” he warned.

“We should focus CAP budgets on science and innovation – focus it on farmers who are doing more to reduce their impact on the environment and are doing innovative things.

“We know we made mistakes in government but we are here to listen,” he added. “I genuinely want this industry to thrive.”

NFU president Peter Kendall said he welcomed policy-making which safeguarded national food supplies.

“The UK should be building policy on growing a productive, environmentally sustainable farming industry,” he said.

“We need to look at all policy though a food and farming lens. We have to make this an enabling environment for agriculture.”

Read our special interview with Mary Creagh and visit our party conference dedicated area