Shadow minister hints Labour government will extend farm budget

Support for the Conservative Party among farmers slipped below 50% for the first time in living memory last December, according to Farmers Weekly’s annual sentiment survey.

And the latest polling shows this ill-feeling towards the government is shared by the general public, with averages extrapolated in the three weeks to 13 April placing Labour on 46.1%, the Conservatives on 28.3% and the Liberal Democrats on 9.7%.

See also: Supermarket power tops concerns at Farmers Weekly Question Time

The result of a general election based on these figures would be a Labour victory, with the party securing a majority of 62 seats in the House of Commons.

What, then, would the party do for farming if it wins power next year?

Shadow Labour farming minister Daniel Zeichner said his overall vision was that the UK grows more of its own food – in a sustainable way.

And he hinted that more money for agriculture could be on the way.

“I think the £2.4bn [budget], given the pressures and costs we’ve seen on farmers, is worth a lot less already than it was two or three years ago,” he said.  

“I will have to discuss with my Treasury colleagues the amounts of money that are going to be available in future.

“No one at this point can be entirely sure, because we don’t know what the economic circumstances will be at the next general election.

Food security

“But I think we will need to go on putting money into our food system from government in the foreseeable future, because that’s how you maintain food security and that is one of our key principles.”

Though Mr Zeichner stopped short of backing a legally binding food self-sufficiency target, as called for by the NFU, he did say he wanted to “improve” the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme to ensure it protects food security.

Asked whether he would support maintaining an element of direct support for farmers, he said he “had some sympathy” with the idea, because it had been the only “stable factor in some of the more precarious areas” in recent years.

“In terms of the schemes as they stand at the moment, the Environmental Land Management scheme is there solely to provide environmental goods,” he said.

“If structured in the right kind of way, it could also provide that kind of basic economic support that I think is important in many areas.”


This willingness to take a more interventionist approach in the food system than the Conservatives is a point Mr Zeichner continually comes back to, especially on the issue of fairness in supply chains.

He insists the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA), which is responsible for regulating the relationships between the UK’s largest retailers and their direct suppliers, needs enhanced powers.

At the moment, the GCA has no remit to look at the prices paid to suppliers.

But asked how a Labour government would want to strengthen the adjudicator, Mr Zeichner said: “That is possibly for more detailed discussion, because what we don’t want to do is end up with unintended consequences.

“The other side of the coin is that our food system is economically efficient and has produced low prices for consumers in recent times when inflation is running at 20%.”

Another body the Labour Party is keen to bolster is the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which has been in the spotlight following Farmers Weekly’s investigation into industrial-scale food fraud and safety breaches at a meat processor, which cannot be named for legal reasons.

“It faces a bigger challenge now outside the EU because we don’t have access to quite the same information and protection that we had before, so it’s got a bigger job to do,” said Mr Zeichner.

“The one thing that does really worry me was [Defra secretary] Therese Coffey’s suggestion a few weeks ago that taking the FSA under Defra control might help somehow.

“The reason it was set up to be independent was precisely because there were worries about undue industry and government influence.

“I think that would be a major misstep. But a Labour government will want to see the FSA strengthened, and that’s one of the areas we’re exploring at the moment.”


Protecting the authenticity and safety of meat is one thing, but how does a Labour Party wedded to reaching net zero feel about meat consumption generally?

Mr Zeichner claimed the livestock industry’s future is not in the hands of ministers.

“I think livestock numbers probably will fall over time, but I don’t think it will be a government decision,” he said.

“I think we’re seeing changes in consumer demand. In the end, it’s consumers who will drive this.

“I want to see our livestock farmers flourishing. I want to see them get a good return. But if it means in some cases they’re getting paid more but producing less, I’m OK with that. And I would suspect most of them would be OK with that too.

“What we don’t want is this kind of polarised binary debate where somehow people are made to feel guilty for doing the work that they do.

“The livestock sector is doing an important job in feeding the nation and should be celebrated.”

Bovine TB

For many farmers in the livestock sector, bovine TB remains top of their list of concerns. According to official figures, the number of TB-restricted herds plummeted from 327 in 2013 to 87 in 2019 in cull zone areas one to 10.

The UK’s chief veterinary officer has also confirmed that TB incidence in cattle in cull areas was down 45% after three years of culling and 50% after four years of culling.

But Mr Zeichner insisted the science was contested and reaffirmed the Labour Party’s plan to abandon badger culling overnight.

“Yes, Labour’s position is we would stop badger culling, but what we want to do most of all is eradicate bovine TB,” he said.

“I would want to see a much, much stronger effort to get vaccination systems in place, as well as the biosecurity protocols strengthened to beat it.

“I think there’s a lot more that can be done, quite frankly, in terms of making sure the basic security measures are in place.

“We met a lot of farmers who are doing it absolutely right, but not all. And that is, I think, where we can improve things.

“I refuse to accept that we cannot do this and defeat it. I think we can make much stronger progress and we’ll be doing everything we can to do that.”


The party is taking a similarly hard line on the use of neonicotinoids, with Mr Zeichner saying he would not have granted a derogation for its use on sugar beet this year or last.

“The problem with neonicotinoids is we know the damage they’re doing, and if you know the damage that’s being done, you shouldn’t be granting the derogations,” he said.

“I say that understanding all too well just how tough it is for sugar beet farmers trying to deal with virus yellows.

“That’s partly why I’ve probably been more positive about moving more quickly on gene editing than some other colleagues, because if you’re going to take away one tool from farmers, you’ve got to be offering them something else.”

Asked whether the Labour Party would consider banning imports grown with neonicotinoids in light of this stance, in order to level the trade playing field, Mr Zeichner said: “Obviously, we start from a position of we are where we are and we’re not going to do anything that puts UK food supply at any risk.

“But over time, we want to make sure that British farmers are not disadvantaged by being undercut by people in other countries being allowed to produce food in ways that they would not want to produce here.”

He would not be drawn on the mechanism a Labour government would seek to use to protect UK producers from unfair trade.

Right-to-roam proposals

There was also a reticence to explain how the party’s right-to-roam plans would work in practice, with Mr Zeichner saying only that there would be a “sensible dialogue” with the people it would affect before any new rules were imposed.

But he batted away any suggestion that policies such as this were fuelling a negative perception of Labour in the countryside.

“I think people understand that there are a series of issues which historically have been pretty contentious,” he said.

“But I don’t think that in any way undermines our strong commitment to food production in this country.”

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