Labour conference fails to provide answers

National farming representatives were disappointed by government responses at the Labour Party conference in Manchester last Sunday.

A National Farmers' Union (NFU) fringe event was held on 21 September, chaired by vocal backbencher Norwich North MP Dr Ian Gibson with department for the environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) Secretary of State Hilary Benn in attendance, as well as NFU president Peter Kendall.

In the first of two fringe meetings in the week, the speakers discussed the role of UK agriculture and horticulture in relation to food security and government policy on providing aid for production.

Speaking on an NFU food security paper, launched two years ago, Kendall said: "The messages coming out of the government and Defra at that time were that the UK, as a rich country, could simply buy the food it needed. Since then, there has been a huge change in the global market, with rising food and commodity prices."

Kendall added: "We are absolutely not suggesting that protectionism is the way forward, but we do need to see us being more productive. For that to happen, the right messages must be coming from government."

Benn reassured delegates that the government was listening to its concerns, but the NFU said he failed to state any concrete proposals to deal with the problems.

The secretary of state did warn farmers that those importing livestock from bluetongue-infected countries need to act responsibly, given recent outbreaks in the UK.

"The industry should heed calls to vaccinate against the disease. It's important to repeat the message that farmers have a responsibility to vaccinate and work in partnership with Defra and the rest of the industry," he said.