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    Sunak assures farmers of improving food security

    (Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)

    Prime minister Rishi Sunak is committed to improving food security in the UK and expressed concerns about low self-sufficiency in “things like tomatoes, pears, plums, lettuces and apples”, assuring farmers of change in culture in government around farming.

    At the recently-held National Farmers Union conference,  Sunak told farmers, “I have your back”.

    Farmers have been critical of trade deals undercutting their business, including the free trade deal with Australia and the prospect of importing Canadian pork and Mexican beef. Sunak said, “We are absolutely committed to supporting you and making sure that you are not undercut.”

    He expressed sympathy for those who had been affected by recent floods that had wiped out thousands of acres of crops. “It’s always devastating when that happens,” he said.

    Later, David Eudall, economics and analysis director at the Agricultural and Horticulture Development Board, told the conference that the rain would cause huge problems.

    “In previous years when we’ve seen this [level of rainfall], like 2019-20 when we had a very similar wet period through the autumn and winter for planting, we saw a 24% reduction in the planted area. Considering we’re in a similar area and have similar weather pattern we’d expect we’re going to see a similar magnitude of scale.”

    Minette Batters, leading her last NFU conference as president, said the farming vote was still up for grabs and asked for Brexit-related labour problems to be solved.

    “Which party will introduce a minimum five-years seasonal workers scheme and recognise that we need more people if we’re to continue providing the raw ingredients for the country’s largest manufacturing sector?” she asked. “Which party will formally commit to sourcing more food from British farms? For our schools, hospitals, our military?”

     “There are still many of our members who will not raise a complaint for fear of being delisted by supermarkets. Conference, this is wrong. It’s unfair, and totally unacceptable. In my last address as NFU president, I have a message to all food retailers and, most importantly, to their shareholders. You have a duty to your farmers and growers. They have a right to earn a fair price. For what they produce for you to sell. This means the culture at the top of food retail has to change. Right now, the badge of honour sits with an often ruthless buyer for negotiating the hardest deal [with] suppliers. Retailers should find them more than that.

    “That badge of honour needs to be worn by responsible board members who recognise the importance of long-term supplier relationships. But it’s really that we need a blueprint for action. My suggestion is that the Groceries Code Adjudicator survey of supplies is used to create a new framework. This would embed retailers’ ethical responsibilities to farmers and growers within their businesses, environmental sustainability goals and corporate social responsibility.”

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