Government reaffirms British food and drink pledge

By Nicholas Robinson contact

- Last updated on GMT

'More needs to be done to increase dairy production,' says secretary of state Owen Paterson
'More needs to be done to increase dairy production,' says secretary of state Owen Paterson

Related tags: Milk, Dairy uk

Environment secretary Owen Paterson has reaffirmed the government’s commitment to give British produce a greater share of its £2.66bn spend on food and drink.

The government must lead the way when it comes to buying British, he told guests at a Dairy UK dinner held in London last night (June 25).

“In 2013, government organisations bought £2.66bn worth of food and drink,” ​said Paterson. “There’s a huge potential to increase the amount of produce coming from the UK and I believe the government should lead the way​.”

£50M on free milk

Government had also extended its commitment to spending more than £50M a year on free UK-produced milk for school children under the age of five, he said.

Revised school food standards, which are due to come into force in January next year, would also ensure school children were discouraged from consuming sugary foods and instead encouraged to consume dairy, he added.

Paterson also praised the efforts the dairy industry had made to modernise and grow over the past 15 years.

“There has been 2.8% growth ​[in dairy output] each year and that’s the amount New Zealand produces in a year,” ​he said.

£10bn world-class sector

“We have a healthy, £10bn world-class sector here that people across the globe want to enjoy and that’s a huge opportunity for business.”

More jobs were also being created in the sector which struggled to recruit in the past, he said. There were about 18,000 people working across the dairy supply chain – a number that was growing.  

The recent opening of Arla’s giant Aylesbury​ dairy, which employs 700 staff, 90 apprentices and produces 240,000 litres of milk an hour, was one example of new jobs in the sector, he added.

But more had to be done to increase dairy production, he said. “More than 30% of the food that we consume in the UK, that we could produce ourselves, is imported.”

There was a £37.2bn trade deficit and the country was importing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of dairy products, when its food and drink manufacturers should be exporting more, he added.

Dairy UK annual award

Meanwhile, Paterson also presented Copa Cogeca (the European farmers agri-cooperative) working party chairman Mansel Raymond with the Dairy UK’s annual award, recognising his significant contribution to the UK dairy industry in the past 12 months.

Mansel, whose twin brother Meurig Raymond is the newly appointed president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), said: “I’m delighted to receive the award.

“We have an industry that is growing at 2.8% a year and I don’t know whether there are any other agri-products increasing by that much.”

Read the July issue of Food Manufacture ​to find out what NFU president Meurig Raymond wants food and drink manufacturers to do to support food production.

Subscribe here​.

Food in numbers:

  • £2.66bn – the annual food and drink spend by government organisations
  • £50M – the cost of free milk for school children under five
  • £37.2bn – the UK’s food and drink trade deficit
  • 2.8%  – the annual rate the dairy sector is growing
  • 18,000 – the number of people working in the dairy supply chain

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