OFC 2010: Conservatives make pledge on ombudsman

The Tories have pledged to implement plans for a supermarket ombudsman should they form the next government.

A Conservative government usher in a new age of agriculture said shadow DEFRA secretary Nick Herbert.

For the past decade, UK food production had fallen, he told delegates at the Oxford Farming Conference on Tuesday (5 January).

“It was the explicit position of the government until recently that it didn’t matter where our food came from.”

Although the government was belatedly addressing the issue, Mr Herbert said CAP reform and fiscal constraints would not lead to a rise in government spending.

But farmers needed to operate in a fair market, he added.

“Food producers must be given a level playing field, and I agree with the Competition Commission on the appointment of a supermarket ombudsman.

“The government can and should introduce this quickly.”

On the subject of food labelling, Mr Herbert said consumers were being misled.

“Meat that is imported and then falsely labelled as British lets down producers in this country whose high animal welfare standards are being undermined.”

The government should lead by example

“Government departments should be made to source food sustainably, and by that I mean locally.

“Government food procurement is worth £2 billion pounds – that would make a huge difference to producers.”

Mr Herbert also hit out at gold-plating of European regulations.

“You can’t take farmers closer to the market and then tie their hands behind their back,” he said.

“We must ensure a system of animal health regulation in which producers can thrive.

When it comes to dealing with bovine TB, if that means we must have a cull, we cannot funk that decision. We cannot sweep that decision under the carpet.”

Policies such as the introduction of electronic identification of sheep could be challenged and needed a true cost-benefit analysis.

But the environmental challenge remained fundamental to the issue of food production, Mr Herbert told delegates.

“We can’t usher in a new decade of higher food production regardless of environmental impact. It must be sustainable.”

Click here for more from the Oxford Farming Conference.