Environment Secretary targets key areas of growth for UK farmers

Four key areas to help the UK food and farming industry grow were unveiled today by Environment Secretary, Elizabeth Truss, in her address to the National Farmers Union annual conference in Birmingham.

Headlining her announcement as a plan which will “unlock the potential of this vital industry”, Ms Truss (pictured) pledged to improve the resilience of the industry in the face of volatile global markets, open new markets at home and abroad and simplify EU regulations.

The four-point plan to achieve this goal was unveiled as:

  • Encouraging more skilled people into the industry by increasing apprenticeships, working across the food supply chain to improve skills, and with universities to offer new further education opportunities in food – such as the country’s first food engineering degree at Sheffield Hallam
  • Enabling the industry to expand and add value to products, such as through the creation of Food Enterprise Zones to kick-start local food economies and join up farming, manufacturing, distribution and retail firms
  • Helping farmers and food businesses deal with global market volatility, such as exploring the feasibility of a futures market for dairy products
  • Slashing red tape – Defra is on course to cut guidance by 80% over the course of this parliament, and 34,000 farm inspections have been cut by combining visits and expanding schemes to reward exemplary farms with less frequent checks

She also highlighted the work already being done to create new export market opportunities, particularly in China and the US, and the importance of protecting the UK from plant and animal diseases.

On exports she said the government had already opened more than 600 new markets and was now focusing on the “most lucrative opportunities” such as trade with China and the US.

On disease issues she highlighted the UK’s “world-class system for protecting the country against animal disease”, adding that the government had “maintained” the number of frontline vets to protect farm businesses from such problems.

Other highlights of her speech included encouraging more top-quality regional foods to apply for Protected Food Name status, given that the UK currently has 62 foods in that category compared with the 219 protected foods registered in France.

Action on pesticides and GM developments also received a mention.

“We have told the European Commission that decisions on pesticides must be proportionate and based on science to avoid holding back competitiveness of our arable farmers,” she said.

“We are also encouraging Europe to embrace scientific advances such as GM, the EU having recently agreed to permit greater national discretion on GM products.”

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