Trade Talk: Money makes the food policy go around

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Related tags: European union, International trade, Food standards agency, Eu, Uk

In the run-up to the election, the policies of the two main parties provide mixed messages.

The Conservatives recognise the importance of red-tape reduction. But they also support new rules for country of origin labelling; mandatory government public food procurement policies; supermarket ombudsman legislation; and labelling for genetically modified products. Nothing is said about what legislation would be repealed to reduce the laws affecting food trading.

Labour, despite its 13-year headstart, does not have a good track record in reducing this burden. Instead, more regulations have come from the EU and more are in the pipeline. This proves that delivery of this promise is outside any UK government gift.

Just before the last election in 2005, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said it was going to review the much-amended Food Labelling Regulations 1996. Shortly after the election, it back-tracked because the European Commission had begun work on proposals for the Food Information Regulation for consumers, so the FSA decided it was sensible to wait for the results. Five years later the UK 1996 Regulations are still with us, and have been amended several times. Meanwhile, the EU proposals, not yet adopted, will add yet further regulations to our statute book.

A more realistic pledge would be to lobby at European level to halt production of new food measures. Resources should be redirected to supporting compliance with existing law.

The Tories, while promising to introduce measures to protect UK farmers, also proclaim support for free trade, particularly where it comes to UK exports. They probably realise that genuine free trade operates in both directions but it suits their interests to reveal only half the story. Judging by the number of references to farming in their manifesto, the Tories seem to be the more farmer-friendly of the two parties.

What else is Labour offering? More research into helping farmers tackle climate change. More investment in agricultural research for poor countries. But given the necessary spending cuts, will they be able to deliver the necessary funds?

What if we get a hung Parliament, where elements of the Liberal Democrat policies might have an influence? They would place greater emphasis on climate change related initiatives.

In the end, it may come down to cash and what's achievable without reference to the EU ... so no room for counting chickens, free range or otherwise. There are more questions than answers in the lean pickings on the table.

Clare Cheney is 
director general 
of the Provision Trade Federation


Related topics: Legal

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