The Labour party has performed an about-turn in farming policy, with food security and a fair deal for farmers at the heart of its rural agenda.
Shadow agriculture minister Huw Irranca-Davies, insisted that his party would strongly support the farming community if it regained power in the next elections.
Mr Irranca-Davies made the pledge in response to a question from a visitor at the Royal Cornwall Show (7 June). The show-goer said: “When the Labour government was last in power it said that we didn’t need to produce food in this country because we could import it. Will you provide us with more support next time?”
Mr Irranca-Davies responded that farming was core to the nation’s economic recovery, and had to be helped to produce more food in a fair and competitive market. “In the period we’ve been in opposition we have been holding round table discussions with rural communities, and have strongly got the message that food security is very dependent on what we produce in this country.”
For every £1 farmers contributed to the economy, processors and retailers added another £5, with the local food market worth £6bn a year, he added. “Food and drink is the biggest manufacturing sector in the UK – farming has a massive impact on the economy. We must help farmers innovate and grow and boost exports.”
“In the period we’ve been in opposition we have been holding round table discussions with rural communities, and have strongly got the message that food security is very dependent on what we produce in this country.”
However, while celebrating his party’s own U-turn, Mr Irranca-Davies lambasted the government’s recent policies on renewable energy and the pasty tax. “You need continuity of policy to allow farmers to invest – we could be doing a lot more with rural enterprises and farmers in developing renewable energy. We need less half-baked policies and more that are thought through properly before they are implemented.”
By abolishing the Agricultural Wages Board, the government had wiped out £90m of sick and holiday pay for farmworkers over the next 10 years, he said. “That’s real money that will leach out of the rural economy.”
He also bemoaned the government’s refusal to take forward Labour’s Food 2030 strategy, and said the party would not accept any watering down of the Gangmaster Licensing Authority’s powers.
While Mr Irranca-Davies was looking forward to the introduction of the Groceries Adjudicator to provide a fairer market place for farmer suppliers, the Government had to act urgently to address the recent inequitable drop in milk prices. “I have written to Jim Paice, asking for a clear timetable for a robust and enduring code of practice. In addition, as a matter of urgency, I asked him to explore the use of early release clauses – if the processor cuts the price unilaterally there should be an exit clause instead of tying farmers in for a year more.”