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Howard promises clearer labelling and tougher supermarket code

by 5m Editor
12 September 2004, at 12:00am

UK - Tory leader Michael Howard promised clearer labelling when he addressed an audience at the Farmers Club, also a tougher supermarket code, stronger controls against illegal imports, and to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board. Key points from his speech...

National
Pig
Association

National Pig Association
THE VOICE OF THE UK PIG INDUSTRY

NPA is active on members' behalf in Brussels & Whitehall, and with processors, supermarkets & caterers - fighting for the growth and pros-perity of the UK pig industry.

Foot and mouth

  • ”It's never been easy to be a farmer. But farming in Britain today is probably more difficult than ever. The pace of change and the threats to the industry have increased significantly in the last couple of decades. Few here today could be criticised for telling their sons and daughters to think hard before deciding to go into farming.”

  • ”The foot and mouth outbreak hit British farming at a time when it was already under severe pressure. Although farm incomes recovered a little last year, they remain far below the levels of the 90s. And since 1997, there has been a steep decline in the number of farmers and farm workers. Take dairy farming as an example. A third of the dairy holdings in England, a quarter of England's dairy cows and half of the dairy workforce have gone in the last ten years. The average dairy farmer earns about 32.90 an hour, for a 70 hour week.”

CAP reform

  • ”Sadly, in Britain CAP reform is not so good in practice. What we do not want is what we are getting at the moment - botched implementation. These reforms should have meant a simpler, less bureaucratic and much freer regime for British farmers. Instead, the Government looks to be creating a new and at least as onerous bureaucratic machine to replace old regime. It's a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire.”

  • ”And of course there is the on-going and well-publicised saga over the 2 metre buffer zones for hedges. Pretty much every one told the Government that the inclusion of these buffer zones is a nonsense. Such measures should be part of an environmental scheme. They should be targeted where the environmental need is greatest. Farmers should be rewarded for complying.”

Red tape

  • ”Instead of employing armies of inspectors and bureaucrats to enforce a plethora of regulations, we want to work with farmers by agreeing on sensible farming practice which will deliver the objectives we seek. The implementation of the forthcoming Water Framework Directive will be a good test. It will be far more effective if government can agree with farmers a code of good practice rather than impose on them a whole new set of detailed regulations.”

  • ”And instead of having five different inspectors turn up at the farm each week to check up on exactly the same thing, we will look at introducing a procedure whereby farmers themselves are responsible for meeting the standards required and are then subject to spot-checks.”

  • ”Another way to cut back DEFRA's bureaucratic meddling is to cut back DEFRA itself. The Government has increased DEFRA's budget by two-thirds since 1997. There are now more bureaucrats in DEFRA than there are dairy farms in England.”

  • ”Last month, we set out detailed plans that would save almost half a billion pounds a year from the DEFRA budget. We will, among other things, reduce the headcount at DEFRA's headquarters, review the number of quangos and slim down the Environment Agency.”

Agricultural Wages Board

  • ”I can also announce today that we will abolish the Agricultural Wages Board. This quaint quango is a hangover from another world. It has no place in a modern world where employers should be free to set their own wage levels that are suitable in a competitive market place.”

Supermarkets

  • ”We do not think it is practical to intervene directly in the relationship between supermarkets and their suppliers. We do not believe that heavy-handed, inflexible Government regulation is the answer. But we do support a much tougher voluntary code as the NFU is recommending. The existing statutory code of practice has made no progress in addressing the 'abuses of power' within the supply chain. There remains room for improvement. A key goal is to make supply chain relations more transparent.”

  • ”To be fair to them, and it makes commercial sense, many supermarket chains are leading the way in actively seeking to source more local produce, and this can only be a good thing. Sainsbury's sources 96% of its beef and pork from UK farmers, 95% of beef in Marks and Spencer is from the UK and Waitrose potatoes are 99% UK sourced. But more could be done.”

  • ”The next Conservative government will push for much clearer food labelling. If we are to have very high food production standards, it is right and proper that consumers should be made aware of the difference in quality between British food and food imported from elsewhere. Then they can make a much more informed choice about what they want to put on their dinner table. It is quite wrong that, for example, pork that is not produced in this country but simply packaged here can be sold to consumers as though it was British. That kind of abuse will stop under the Conservatives.”

Illegal imports

  • ”We must also be much tougher in stopping the estimated 17,500 tonnes of illegal meat products that come in every year, a figure greater than the combined imports from France, Uruguay and Argentina. This trade is not only threatening endangered species abroad, it represents a daily risk of the importation of diseases such as swine fever, foot and mouth or worse.”
Source:National Pig Association - 12th September 2004

5m Editor