By Joseph Willits
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In the spirit of accountability, speaking at Environment, Food, & Rural Affairs questions yesterday, Labour MP Tom Harris indulged other members with details of his own breakfast. Harris was welcoming the fact that 90% of food purchased by the House of Commons was British - 90% of which he had presumably enjoyed. After asking Caroline Spelman about jobs and growth in the food production industry, Harris asked what DEFRA's own percentage of British sourced food was:
"I think the whole House has a perfect right to know what I had for breakfast this morning. I started with sausages, bacon and egg—only one, of course, because I am on a health kick. In tucking in, I was reassured by the fact that 90% of all the food purchased by the House is sourced in the United Kingdom, encouraging British growth and British jobs. Will the Secretary of State tell the House not what she had for breakfast—too much information already—but what proportion of food purchased by her own Department is sourced in the United Kingdom?"
Spelman did not disclose her own breakfast to the House, and nor did she seem particulalry interested in Mr Harris', but she did reveal that only 18% of food purchased by her own department was sourced in the UK:
"World Trade Organisation rules mean that we can require purchasing to British standards in Government procurement, but we cannot require produce to be British. We adhere to those rules, and we actively promote Government buying standards involving all Departments sourcing food that is produced to British standards in order to promote those standards."
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Caroline Spelman, announced her Department's plans to control the badger population, through culling, in two pilot areas in the South West next summer, following a public consultation.
The Secretary of State explained why the plan is necessary: "Nearly 25,000 cattle were slaughtered in England in 2010 because of bovine TB, which cost the country £90 million last year. The problem is particularly bad in west and south-west England, where 23 per cent of cattle farms were unable to move stock off their premises at some point in 2010 due to being affected by the disease."
"This law will drive up the cost of the weekly food shop at the worst time for British families.
We do need strong restrictions on pesticide use but it should be based on sound science, rather than on the whim of politicians. There has been no balance whatsoever in the parliament's position. MEPs have failed to see pesticides as necessary tools in maintaining our crops.
Many of the products on the market today are safe when used correctly, and have been around for years. Without crop protection products, our food supplies will be volatile at a time when food security is rising up the political agenda.
The Labour government has expressed platitudinous concern about the directive, but it has failed to put the case nearly as strongly as it should have.
It is ludicrous that such a plan would be brought into law without an impact assessment to gauge its consequences. The only hope we have is for a last-ditch effort by the government to demand we finally get an overall picture of how food production will be affected across the EU."
The European Commission has fined the UK £74.5 million for the Single Farm Payments cock-up, which saw Britain fail to meet the EU's deadline for providing subsidies for farmers. In 2005 the Rural Payments Agency was bedevilled by administrative mistakes.
Mr Parish comments:
"One again our government's incompetence has caused British farmers and the British taxpayer to lose out.
When at Defra, Margaret Beckett introduced a hybrid system for making payments that everybody told her would lead to this calamity, yet she went ahead anyway.
Beckett's legacy of blunders is still being felt in the countryside today, yet she still sits around the Cabinet table. That shows the level of contempt this government has for the countryside."
This is good robust stuff from Mr Parish; but could the Government be more robust still? Just imagine the following for a moment.
Gordon Brown calls a press conference and calmly announces:
"The mistakes surrounding Single Farm Payments in 2005 were deeply regrettable, and I apologise on behalf of my Government. Farmers were badly hurt by what happened. It is important now that farmers and taxpayers alike do not suffer any further, not least in light of the current economic difficulties we all face.
Consequently, I am resisting the European Commission's demand that we pay £74.5 million. I am only too happy to discuss reform of EU farming rules, as the UK has been at an unfair disadvantage for years. What I simply will not do is allow UK taxpayers to be fleeced.
Simply put, we will not be paying a fine."
There might be, as the late Alan Clark would have put it, "a terrible fuss". And it will never actually happen, of course. But isn't it time that we started to be a bit more assertive towards the EU? If we must remain a member - and the author's personal view is that we should negotiate a non-exclusive free trade arrangement instead - then could we not at least start picking and choosing which bits work for us, like other countries do?!
Whitehall is far too meek in the face of pressure from the European Union. It's time to show some muscle. We are a great nation, after all. And, when push comes to shove, the EU doesn't want to lose the UK market.
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