Defra Secretary highlights food industry potential

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference yesterday, the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Owen Paterson spoke of the year ahead for the food and farming industries.

In a speech given to attendees, Paterson acknowledged 2012 as a tough year for farmers. He said: “The year that started in drought has ended in torrential rain and floods. These difficulties have been further compounded by pressure on prices, high feed costs and diseases such as bovine TB and Schmallenberg.”

However, he also explained that despite the problems faced in 2012, there was much to be positive about and noted that farmers in the UK produced food for 63.5m people, as well as supporting industries that add £90bn to the UK economy.

Paterson also added that he saw Defra’s role in 2013 as “working to create the right conditions for rural businesses to thrive and grow”. He added: “That includes investing £530m in superfast broadband for rural areas by 2015, with £20m for the most remote communities.”


Paterson also highlighted the astonishing growth in the global population, which has increased from 2.5bn in 1950 to just over 7bn today. He said new technologies for food and agriculture helped the industry to keep up to speed with this growth.

“Between 1967 and 2007, crop yields increased by 115%, but land use only increased by 8%. Indur Goklany has calculated that if we tried to support today’s population using the production methods of the 1950s, instead of farming 38% of all land, we would need to use 82%,” he said.


He also spoke of being committed to seizing opportunities for the growing global demand for high-quality UK food, saying: “Food and drink exports were worth £18.2bn in 2011 – the seventh year of continuous export growth.

“There are some great examples of new markets that we are opening up. After lengthy negotiations, Russia has just lifted its ban on British beef and lamb imports in a deal potentially worth £80m over the next three years. China has also opened its doors to British pork, enabling us to export the fifth quarter, for which there is little demand in the UK with a value of £50m a year.”

He drew on his recent trip to Shanghai and Hong Kong, and said British food was extremely marketable abroad, explaining that the “top-quality” ingredients and raw materials the UK has to offer make products reliable and traceable.

Paterson said: “We must not only ensure that our native animals are healthy for economic reasons – in 2011 exports of beef and lamb totalled £851m alone – but the very important role they play in supporting our landscapes and biodiversity.”


Bovine TB was a topic of much controversy in 2012 and the Defra Secretary said it was the “most pressing health problem in the UK”.

“Its impact on our cattle farmers, their families and their communities cannot be overstated. Last year TB led to the slaughter of 26,000 cattle in England at a cost of nearly £100m. In the last 10 years, bovine TB has cost the taxpayer £500m. This will rise to an estimated £1bn over the next decade if the disease is left unchecked.”

In summary, he said 15 years of research showed clearly that badgers and cattle transmit diseases to each other and explained that the culling of badgers could lead to a reduction of the disease in cattle if done in a large enough area for the right amount of time.

“The decision, based on the advice of the NFU, to postpone the culls last autumn was a disappointing one for us all, but the right one in terms of the effective delivery of the policy,” he said. And he added that the pilots would go ahead this summer.

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