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Food Production and Retail

Volume 447: debated on Thursday 22 June 2006

1. What assessment he has made of the environmental impact of the food production and retail chain. (79341)

9. What assessment he has made of the environmental impact of the food retail and production industry. (79350)

Given the power of the large supermarkets, which are driving down prices at the farm gate, what is the Minister doing to ensure that we get fair trade for farmers and producers at home as well as abroad?

The hon. Lady will be aware that the Competition Commission recently announced an inquiry into supermarkets. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to the commission suggesting that it look into the issues that she raises as part of its inquiry—a move that has been welcomed by the Liberal Democrats.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the National Federation of Women’s Institutes on this week’s national day of action against packaging? It is right to highlight the fact that we must get rid of excess packaging on food products and use recyclable or compostable materials where packaging is required. What actions are the Government taking to require food producers and retailers to minimise packaging?

I warmly welcome the campaign by the women’s institute, and I have written to congratulate it. As the hon. Lady is probably aware, the Government have set statutory targets to reduce and recycle a certain amount of packaging by 2008. We have also entered into an agreement with all the major supermarkets to reduce the growth in packaging and to achieve an absolute reduction in packaging within the same time frame.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Sustainable Communities Bill is the best way to signal the importance of local food chains and trying to restore local communities? It is currently a private Member’s Bill, but I hope that the Government will take it up. This issue is going round the country like wildfire, and people are attending meetings in their hundreds. I am addressing a meeting in Stroud tonight. I hope that the Minister will say that the Government support this wholeheartedly.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the numbers of people he can attract to public meetings; I wish that we could all have the same success. I have listened carefully to his comments about the Sustainable Communities Bill, as have my colleagues, and I am sure that we will take them very seriously.

Surely more can be done to assist local suppliers, as happens with a lot of farm shops, of which we have a large number in my constituency. Should not the larger supermarkets follow the lead of supermarkets such as Booth’s, which got involved very early on with the Bowland milk initiative, whereby they sourced a lot of their milk from local farm producers? It has now been extended to cheeses. That is something that supermarkets could be doing to help the environment and to help local suppliers by sourcing locally.

I entirely agree. The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that in the past few weeks the major supermarkets have been almost falling over themselves to compete with each other to introduce more and better sourcing of local food. It is gratifying that there is consensus across the House that seems finally to be sinking into the supermarket chain.

There can be no doubt that it is far better for the environment and for local economies to eat British strawberries, as it reduces food miles and boosts incomes in rural areas. Polytunnels have been vital to the success of our strawberry growers in extending the growing season. It is extraordinary that the Conservatives have called for a boycott of British strawberries.

Order. I understand that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) shouted, “A deliberate falsehood”. Perhaps he will withdraw the remark.