5 things Therese Coffey told hostile Efra committee meeting

Therese Coffey appeared before MPs at an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee meeting to answer questions on the latest policies affecting food and farming.

During the session held at Westminster on Tuesday 28 March, cross-party MPs grilled the Defra secretary on a range of subjects, including food security, fairness in the supply chain and avian influenza.

See also: Editor’s view: Car-crash Coffey contrasts with slick Starmer

At times, there were hostile clashes between Ms Coffey and opposition MPs. During one angry exchange on food nutrition, she labelled Labour MP Geraint Davies “pathetic” and told him to “grow up”. Mr Davies hit back, telling Ms Coffey she was “pathetic”.

Here are five things we learned:

1. Food security

 Prime minister Rishi Sunak has agreed to host a UK food security summit at 10 Downing Street in the second quarter of 2023, Ms Coffey said.

But she insisted an annual government report on UK food security was not necessary – despite this issue rising up the political agenda since the Ukraine war.

2. Supermarkets and fairness in the supply chain

A Defra review of the dairy supply chain is expected “very soon” and within the next few months, and the pork review “will be published shortly”, followed by implementation.

3. Environmental Land Management scheme

Ms Coffey admitted it has taken more time to “put the IT together” to be able to “open up the offer” of six new standards available under the Sustainable Farming Incentive. These are due to be launched this summer.

4. Avian influenza

Since 1 October 2022, Ms Coffey said there have been 148 confirmed outbreaks of the H5N1 strain of avian flu in poultry and captive birds in England.

“Most of the impact has been in East Anglia and nearly five million birds have either died or been culled for disease control.”

5. She does not listen to the opinions of farmers 

Efra chairman Robert Goodwill asked Ms Coffey if she had read the Farmers Weekly editorial in which editor Andrew Meredith described her appearance at the NFU Conference as a “car crash”.

When Ms Coffey accused Mr Meredith of “voting Liberal Democrat for a decade before joining Labour” (this was in fact FW opinion writer Stephen Carr) and was corrected by Mr Goodwill, she said she had not read his editorial, adding: “I am into information and facts.”

Lib Dem spokesperson Tim Farron later said Ms Coffey’s comments “demonstrate the hostility of the Conservative government towards farmers just trying to get by.”

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