Starting a national conversation around food
We have great opportunities before us. Our departure from the Common Agricultural Policy has allowed us to put in place a whole new system of support for farmers and growers. We were clear in our manifesto that we want people at home and abroad to be lining up to buy British.
We will be launching our food white paper, and our independent trade policy will open up new opportunities for UK food producers and manufacturers.
During the pandemic, the food sector has gone above and beyond. In what has been the greatest health challenge this country has faced in our lifetime, those who provide our food have worked around the clock to keep the nation fed – in our fields, our fish markets, processing plants, factories, wholesalers, stores, takeaways, and all those moving goods around the country and to our homes.
The pandemic has also highlighted the vital role that farmers and food manufacturers have to play in delivering our food security.
The food sector is also central when it comes to the government’s “levelling up” agenda. Food and drink is the biggest manufacturing sector in the UK – bigger than the automotive and aerospace industries combined. And it is more evenly dispersed across the country.
Food manufacturers provide employment, they offer apprenticeships and opportunities for the next generation, they invest in research and development, and they give local areas a real sense of identity.
There are often misconceptions about what goes on behind the factory door, but the jobs available are often highly-skilled, technical and offer good opportunities for progression.
I am very much on a mission to ensure we are encouraging people to buy British
From Melton Mowbray pork pies to Wensleydale cheese, Cornish clotted cream, Welsh salt marsh lamb, and Scottish salmon, we have so many fantastic food manufacturers. I am really looking forward to getting out and about at the agricultural shows this year, meeting more small businesses and talking to them about the opportunities ahead – and of course eating their products.
We want to boost UK agri-food exports and showcase our fantastic produce around the world. We have already announced we are adding eight new agri-food attachés in priority markets to help secure access for a great range of products. They will cover the US, India and the Asia-Pacific region, among others.
At home, I am very much on a mission to ensure we are encouraging people to buy British. With our upcoming white paper, we have the opportunity to rethink the food system to make sure everyone has access to high-quality, nutritious and sustainable food. There are some challenging issues to grapple with, including public procurement, and the growing interest of consumers in the environment.
During the pandemic, people became very aware of supply chains, where their food comes from, and how it is produced. Television programmes such as Clarkson’s Farm, which broke records for Amazon Prime Video when it began a year ago, have inspired a renewed interest in farming and how we grow our food.
It’s fair to say there are exciting times ahead and our conversation about food is only just beginning.
Victoria Prentis is Conservative MP for Banbury, and minister of state for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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