Food and farming will remain central to her brief, Jane Kennedy, minister of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), reassured the industry.
Kennedy was speaking at a breakfast meeting last week at the House of Lords in London, in one of her first public engagements in her new role. She was attempting to allay fears about a diminution of her food and farming role which some in the industry had feared. Her speech preceded her presentation of the David Black award, organised by BPEX - formerly the British Pig Executive - to Ian Campbell for his contribution to the pig sector.
Kennedy also took the opportunity to call for greater “market transparency” in the pig supply chain. “All of those in the supply chain, whether they be farmers, feed merchants, processors and retailers, have a moral duty to ensure there is transparency in how the market is structured so that it delivers a fair deal for all, including ultimately the consumers,” she said. “Pig farmers, I now know, feel [they] are currently getting a bad deal, unable to match [their] production costs in market sales.”
Kennedy expressed sympathy for pig farmers’ plight and called on the wider supply chain to “collectively redress this situation”. “Despite the problems and the challenges that you are without doubt currently facing, I have found you to be highly organised, professional and forward thinking.”
Kennedy’s new role at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) combines that formerly carried out by predecessors Lord Rooker and Phil Woolas, with responsibility for farming, food and the environment.
“The role is farming and food and I hope to be able to use that to be able to deal with some of the issues that you are facing in the industry,” said Kennedy. “I have been working hard to learn as much about the industry in as short a time as I could … And I want to be very much in listening mode so I can quickly get to understand the issues affecting the industry.”
Kennedy added: “I know that you have had to cope with dramatic rises in animal feed and energy costs in the last year or so. That saw pig farmers having to sell your pigs at about £26 each less than the cost of production. And I know things have improved somewhat, but you are still losing about £3 per pig.
“These cost increases have been compounded by the additional burden of interpreting new European environmental regulations and preventing the further spread of exotic disease outbreaks.”
However, despite the reassurance, concerns remain that farmers’ and food processors’ interests are likely to become less of a priority for government as issues including the economy and environment rise up the agenda.
Campbell, who began his career with Cadbury before moving into the pig sector, said in his acceptance speech: “I do believe the pig industry merits some stability within DEFRA in terms of the people who are in communication with the pig world.”