Buying British produce and tapping into soaring demand from abroad for high-quality goods will help boost the UK food industry and create jobs, says Owen Paterson, the new secretary of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
He opened his keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference on Tuesday October 9 by talking-up the food and drink sector.
“One of my first events at Number 10 was a meeting with food producers, suppliers, producers and exporters.
“The wider food supply industry is responsible for 3.7M jobs, and contributes nearly £90M a year to our economy.
“We are helping to secure 6,000 apprenticeships in the food manufacturing sector alone, but we must continue to work with the whole industry,” he said.
He told delegates the food industry was pivotal to his ambition to harness growth while protecting the environment.
“We need to get the right people into the right jobs, give them the necessary skills to capitalise on the opportunities by the growing global demand for high-quality British products,” he said.
“But as we help our farmers and producers seize these opportunities, we must also help them overcome the difficulties. We must continue to cut regulation and to get out of peoples’ hair,” he added.
Despite the industry’s achievements, Paterson said there was far more to be done to develop growth.
While tapping into export demands was crucial, he said, it was also incumbent on the country to do its bit by buying British.
“We can also do our bit. Each year we import 150,000t of ice cream, more than double the 50,000t we send abroad. We import 150,000t of yoghurt, six times the 25,000t we export.
“Just as we got behind Team GB this summer, we need to get behind our farmers. By buying British we can support own producers and enjoy some of the finest produce around.”
Earlier in the morning, DEFRA minister Richard Benyon said central government had played its part by “getting its house in order” by buying only British products.
However, he shied away from a call from one delegate to introduce legislation to make country of origin labelling more prominent.
In a wide-ranging speech, Paterson went on to pledge his support for a trail badger cull to tackle bovine TB, praised former farming minister Jim Paice for his work on the voluntary code for dairy prices and called for a radical overhaul of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, branding it an “biological, environmental, economic and social disaster”.
Likewise, the Common Agricultural Policy was “monolithic and outdated”, he said, pledging to work to radically reform it.
In his closing remarks Paterson sought to reassure businesses that their interest would be protected.
“Only by creating a healthy, prosperous economy can we improve our environment. You can’t have one without the other. That’s why we are determined to put in place the infrastructure to reduce regulation and allow everyone to get on with the job,” he said.