UK: Horsemeat scandal show need for ‘major shift’ in food production, British farmers told

National Famers Union President Peter Kendall

National Famers Union President Peter Kendall - Credit: Archant

Farmers’ leader Peter Kendall has used his opening address at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference 2013 to argue that the horsemeat scandal shows the need for a major shift in the way food is delivered.

Speaking in Birmingham today, NFU president Mr Kendall said one of the lessons to be learned from the current food scandal is that the great British consumer wants their food to be produced as close to home as possible.

“This boils down to a clear and simple message: we need shorter supply chains which source from British farmers and growers,” he said. “We must make that our collective ambition. But if British farmers are to deliver more of what the British consumer buys, it’s going to take a major shift in the way the food supply chain operates.

Mr Kendall will call on Government and the rest of the supply chain to work with farmers to ensure they have all the tools at their disposal to produce food and create a fair and transparent supply chain – for a home market.

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Kendall claimed there was a lack of fairness proposed in the current Common Agriculture Policy reforms, and spoke of the on-going threat to beef and dairy farmers from TB, and the need for shorter, traceable food supply chains highlighted by the horsemeat scandal of recent weeks. But he remained optimistic that farming’s prospects are good.

“It’s not just about today’s 63 million UK consumers. As I’ve often said, standing still production-wise isn’t an option – on the self-sufficiency scale it takes us backwards. The latest Office of National Statistics projections suggest that by 2021 – that’s within eight years – the population in England alone will have increased by over 4.5 million people. That’s practically four Birmingham’s worth of extra mouths to feed on our doorstep. This is a massive opportunity for all of us.”

Mr Kendall also argued for a fair deal for English farmers, announcing the launch of a new CAP farming coalition with the NFU, the Tenants Farmers’ Association and the Country Land and Business Association. He said while the NFU had never argued for a bigger CAP budget, he was standing up for British farmers, currently disadvantaged by the CAP compared with our immediate competitors in Europe.

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The coalition is united in demanding that English farmers should be treated fairly on the budget, and that the environmental conditions they face should be no different to those applied in the rest of Europe.

Mr Kendall said they also believed in unilaterally moving money away from direct payments, or modulation.

“If there’s one thing that unites every farmer in every sector in every part of the country it’s hatred of modulation. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has negotiated the right to cut English farmers’ payments by 15%. That’s intolerable to us in the NFU and to the coalition. Particularly when we know that some other countries are planning to transfer 25% in the other direction. Farmers across England are asking: ‘Who’s batting for us in this CAP negotiation?’”

He also called for a rethink on some of the greening proposals currently on the table.

“Even the EU heads of government have stressed that ecological focus areas should be implemented in ways that do not require land to be taken out of production,” he said. “We can’t afford to have great swathes of land taken out of production. We have a job to do, and that job, first and foremost, is to produce food to feed this country.”