Farming under debate in House of Commons

Food, farming and the environment were under debate in the House of Commons yesterday.

The debate was only the second on farming in six years. It covered many of the issues affecting livestock farming including TB, EID, cost sharing, bluetongue vaccination, labelling, the environment, fallen stock, food security, recruitment and training, regulation and procurement.

Introducing the debate, Defra secretary of state Hilary Benn said: “I want—indeed, the whole House wants—a thriving farming industry. Farmers want that, too, but the sector faces some very big challenges and we have to be honest about them.”

Food security and matching sustainable production to future demand formed a major part of the debate. Benn argued that the UK should not “aim for self-sufficiency in food production create targets for food production or go back to the subsidies, intervention and environmental degradation of the past”, but said he did want the UK to produce “as much food as possible”.

Pointing out agriculture’s contribution to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, Benn stressed that any future food production must be sustainable and said: “We need to change the way in which we do things. As we increase production to meet demand today, we must ensure that we do not destroy our ability to feed ourselves tomorrow.

The new farming minister, Jim Fitzpatrick, also stressed that “climate change is a key issue for agriculture.” He revealed that the government is currently developing a policy framework to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions in the agriculture sector and said Defra hopes to publish a implementation plan on anaerobic digestion by July.

Fitzpatrick pointed to more regular debates on farming in the Commons, stating that “if every other week is going to begin with a farming debate on the Monday and finish with another on the Thursday, I am not going to have time to get my feet under the table or to do any further study (on farming issues).”

The National Farmer’s Union (NFU) welcomed the decision to once again debate farming in the Common, but added: “It is disappointing that government time has not been available to discuss this subject since 2002, but we hope that this debate highlights a renewed interest and appreciation of this important subject - in part brought about by concerns over food-security.