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Food Prices

Volume 530: debated on Thursday 30 June 2011

I think not. If I have missed something and the Secretary of State wishes to explain it I will be obliged, but I think not.

Sorry, Mr Speaker. It has been withdrawn, I think.

The Government are committed to promoting better functioning of agricultural markets to help mitigate future price spikes. Last week I attended the G20 Agriculture Ministers meeting—the first time that Agriculture Ministers have been convoked under the G20. We unanimously agreed on measures to increase food production sustainably and provide better transparency and governance in order to regulate supply and demand. I wish to see further liberalisation of markets, which as the Government’s foresight report states, will help dampen price volatility.

The United Nations and the OECD recently predicted that global food prices could rise by as much as 30% in the next decade. What action is the Secretary of State taking to tackle commodity speculation and rising food prices?

There is no conclusive evidence that speculation is the principal cause of price volatility. Farmers would be the first to explain that they speculate—or hedge—in order to even out the highs and lows in their prices. The fundamental problem in world markets is that of tight supply and demand, so the most important thing we can do is increase food production sustainably. That is a priority for my Department.

It is important not only to examine food prices but to ensure that people are buying the right product. There are likely to be a lot of low-standard eggs coming into Britain, because we will have met the standards for the new enriched cages by January but a lot of Europe will not. What are the Government doing to prevent such eggs from coming into Britain?

As I have told the House before, I was the first among the EU Agriculture Ministers to spell out how important it is that all egg producers comply with the changes in the law that will apply from 1 January. I am delighted to be able to inform my hon. Friend that it will not be legal to market eggs in this country that have not been produced in enriched cages.

We are all aware that external factors push up food prices, but another problem is the imbalance between the supermarkets and the producer, which is passed on to the customer. We have just had an unsatisfactory response about the adjudicator. What we want is a proactive ombudsman with real teeth, so that consumers and producers get a fair price.

That is a bit rich coming from a representative of a party that was in government for 13 years and had the opportunity to introduce such an ombudsman, which is something that this Government are now setting about doing.