The Conservative MP for north Shropshire held the position of secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, since September 4 2012, when he replaced Caroline Spelman.
An outspoken advocate of genetically modified (GM) food production, Paterson quickly established a reputation for plain speaking on a range of controversial issues. He slammed those who opposed the introduction of GM rice containing vitamin A as “absolutely wicked,” and appeared less than fully convinced of the threats of global warming. See Paterson in his own words below.
‘The badgers moved the goalposts’
When asked why marksmen had failed to reach their cull target in a pilot badger cull to control bovine TB in cattle last autumn in west Somerset, he memorably replied “the badgers moved the goalposts”.
At the beginning of this year Paterson was criticised for failing to protect Britain against the risk of flooding – particularly in the south west – despite being away from his post for some time due to illness.
Reaction to his departure has been mixed. National Farmers Union president Meurig Raymond said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank Owen Paterson for his hard work and dedication to farming and agriculture over the past two years.
“He showed an understanding of farmers and the farming industry and knew how important food production and food security is.”
But the campaign group Friends of the Earth was less appreciative. Its executive director Andy Atkins slammed Paterson was “the worst environment secretary the UK has had for decades”.
Atkins said: “Mr Paterson has wilfully ignored scientific evidence on climate change, championed pesticide firms instead of bees and massively underinvested in flood defences, leaving thousands of households at risk of future flooding.”
His replacement, Liz Truss is Conservative MP for south West Norfolk. Before her latest appointment, she was parliamentary under secretary of state for education and childcare.
Paterson: in his own words
On badgers: “The badgers moved the goalposts. We're dealing with a wild animal, subject to the vagaries of the weather and disease and breeding patterns.”
More on badgers: “I was perhaps about 10 years old when a local farmer rang us up to say he had found a young badger and would we take it in. So we did; it was a female called Bessy and she lived in the boiler room. She was extremely intelligent, had a very low opinion of cats but loved the dogs. She was pretty well trained; she went in the car.”
On desserts: “One thing I have been banging on about, we have a dessert deficit in the U.K. We still import a very large proportion of our desserts. I would ask everyone to go out and buy a British dessert.”
On anti-GM rice campaigners: “It’s just disgusting that little children are allowed to go blind and die because of a hang-up by a small number of people about this technology [GM rice rich in vitamin A]. I feel really strongly about it. I think what they do is absolutely wicked.”
More on GM: “Europe risks becoming the Museum of world farming, as innovative companies make decisions to invest and develop new technologies in other markets. The longer that Europe continues to close its doors to GM, the greater the risk that the rest of the world will bypass us altogether.”
On climate change: “Climate change is obviously happening and there is obviously a man-made contribution.”
On horsemeat scandal: “One of the upsides of the horsemeat scandal – which was a straight fraud on the public – was a real interest by the public in assurance. Quite rightly, the public wants to be assured that what they buy is what is sold on the packet.” (FoodManufacture.co.uk interview).
Other key cabinet reshuffle moves include:
- Ken Clarke, minister without portfolio, to quit the cabinet
- Michael Gove, former education secretary replaced by Nicky Morgan. He has become chief whip
- William Hague, former foreign secretary, replaced by Philip Hammond. Hague has become leader of the Commons
- Michael Fallon, former business minister become defence secretary
- David Jones, sacked as Welsh secretary