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Welsh Food: Protected Status

Volume 686: debated on Tuesday 15 December 2020

I remind hon. Members that we have made some changes to normal practice in order to support the new call list, and to ensure that social distancing can be respected. I remind Members that they must arrive at the start of the debate, and also ask everyone to respect the one-way system and to please sanitise microphones and everything that they may be touching before they exit the room.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Welsh food and protected status.

Môn Mam Cymru translates to “Anglesey, the mother of Wales”, and this name reflects the fact that our island once fed the entirety of Wales from its green pastures. We can still see some of the nearly 50 windmills on the island that once produced the wheat that fed Wales. My constituency has a long and proud history of producing the finest British food, and that tradition continues today.

The industry is visible all over our island, from the lush rolling fields filled with cattle, sheep and crops, to the beautiful oceans from which Halen Môn extracts all of its Anglesey sea salt and Holyhead Shellfish takes its catch. The hard work of our farmers is evident as my family and I tuck into roast lamb from Raymond the butcher in Holyhead on a Sunday: we can taste the extra effort that Anglesey farmers such as Gwilym Williams and Will Edwards put into their produce. It has been a pleasure to visit so many of the food producers on Ynys Môn, from The Marram Grass restaurant in Newborough, which uses produce directly from its own farm, to The Lobster Pot in Church Bay, which has been supplying top-quality, fresh, sustainably sourced seafood for 65 years, and is run by the third generation of the Wilson family.

Every year, the island’s talent is on display at the Anglesey county show at the Mona showground, an event that dates back more than 200 years. Many of my constituents have wonderful memories of the food on offer at the show, including one of my staff members, Bethan, who tried her very first pizza there at the age of 13. All types of food and drink are showcased, including Condessa Welsh Liqueurs, which are produced on the island but sold across the UK, and Hooton’s Homegrown, which grows its own fruit and vegetables and rears and butchers its own livestock. The show is also an educational opportunity, with NFU Cymru, the Farmers Union of Wales, the Country Land and Business Association and Ffermwyr Ifanc having stalls to discuss the work they do representing the farming community.

I have invited the Prime Minister to the Anglesey County Show next August and I am looking forward to showing him around. Anglesey’s agricultural food and drink industry is also part of a larger community of inspiring producers across Wales, which has a proud history of excellence in food. Last year, businesses in the Welsh food and drink supply chain had a turnover of more than £22 billion. We have nearly three times as many people working in hospitality and food on the island than the UK average.

I am thrilled that the quality of Welsh food is being recognised globally as well as nationally. In order to mark the enhanced quality of these goods, it is vital that we continue to give them the geographical indicators that inform customers nationally and internationally of their first-class standard. That is why I am pleased that the UK Government will establish the new UK geographical indication schemes at the end of the transition period. Existing UK GI products, including favourites such as Welsh lamb, Scotch whisky and Cornish pasties, will continue to receive protection under the UK GI schemes. The GI schemes offer a range of benefits to UK producers and both domestic and international customers.

The GI scheme includes Welsh beef and lamb, both of which are important to the farmers on my island constituency of Anglesey.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Last year the Vale of Clwyd Denbigh plum was awarded protected designation of origin status. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Indeed. Does my hon. Friend agree that protected status for food and drink can be a source of great community pride as well as an economic benefit?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I am looking forward to tasting those delicious plums he talks about.

I congratulate the hon. Member on securing the debate. I fully agree with her on the importance of protected indicators. A few applications for Welsh produce, such as Gower salt marsh lamb and Cambrian meat, have been going through the European certification process but have not been able to complete it. Does the hon. Lady agree that it is a good idea that these products and others that started the European journey are prioritised under the new UK scheme?

I absolutely agree that Wales does punch above its weight. Welsh lamb and beef have long been recognised for their quality. Our farmers practise high standards of animal husbandry and pastureland management, working primarily on family-run farms. That means that, when people see the prestigious GI mark on our meat, they will know that those lambs and cattle were born and reared in Wales, that they roamed freely and ate from our lush, naturally watered pastures. All of that means that customers are assured that the meat they are buying is of the very best quality.

Welsh products make up 10 of the 12 most recent GI applications for the UK, showing the position of Welsh farmers and producers at the forefront of this important scheme. The Welsh holders of GIs make best use of the opportunity made available to them, working collaboratively to support each other’s businesses. Producers often support and champion each other to grow together. That feeling was echoed by Fay Francis, the GI consultant, who recently spoke to members of the all-party parliamentary group on geographically protected foods, who said,

“Wales has an impressive ‘family’ of Welsh GI products which promote the heritage and culture of Wales. Hopefully, with the UK GI scheme, Wales will have more new GI applications from Welsh producers who recognise the potential value attaining GI status can have for their business.”

As we prepare for our departure from the European Union, we are investigating methods to ensure that the high standards of British goods enhance our trade opportunities overseas. To that end, the UK Government are working with their global trading partners to transition the EU free trade and other sectoral agreements. We are exploring the potential for new agreements with international trading partners, including commitments relevant to the recognition and protection of UK GIs, and GIs from the rest of the world. As GIs represent around 25% of UK food and drink exports by value, approaching £6 billion in export value, it is clear that they will play a central role in future trade.

The recently announced UK-Japan comprehensive economic partnership agreement is an example of how we will offer new protection for more iconic UK goods in future. That will clearly improve the awareness and recognition of key UK brands within the Japanese market, which includes protection for Anglesey sea salt from my constituency.

I know, having spoken with my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), who chairs the APPG on geographically protected foods, about the clearly huge significance that the status can have for businesses. My hon. Friend has many protected foods in her constituency: Rutland bitter, Stilton cheese and the delicious Melton Mowbray pork pie, whose GI was vital to stop external manufacturers counterfeiting the economically valuable Melton Mowbray moniker. My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) has the celebrated Lakeland Herdwick sheep in her constituency. The meat from those sheep is famous for its flavour, which is, of course, second only to Welsh lamb.

I also welcome the new research funded by the UK Government recently which will advise on how to better promote UK GI brands and underpin a new promotional strategy. Over the coming weeks and months, we will see an increased awareness of our GI brands, within the UK and overseas. GIs not only give a quality mark when a product is retailed, but they have a natural affinity to food tourism. The Welsh products with GI status epitomise our culture, heritage and tradition. Tourists and locals alike flock to events such as the Beaumaris food festival to sample local delicacies ranging from cheese to ice cream and sausages to cider, all made using high quality, locally sourced produce.

One of the first geographical indicators awarded in Wales was for Halen Môn, Anglesey sea salt, which has opened an award-winning saltcote and visitor centre, encouraging tourists to learn about the production process and purchase their products. On my recent visit, I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about its products and meet the wonderful staff, including Eifion Jones, the dispatch team leader. As the UK county most dependent on tourism, it is vital that Anglesey’s businesses take every opportunity to boost revenue and re-invest in our community.

I would like to end by asking the Minister to confirm that the UK Government will continue to invest in the new scheme to secure its future. Do the Government recognise the importance of supporting food producers, especially post-Brexit? Is her Department working closely with the Department for International Trade to bring meaningful benefits to food producers? I look forward to a future where Anglesey sea salt is found in the finest foreign cuisines all over the globe and Welsh lamb and beef are even more recognised delicacies internationally. I especially look forward to tasting more food that is awarded the special recognition of a geographical indicator.

We are soon approaching our departure from the European Union and across the country a year of unrest has led to concerns about the opportunities for businesses in the upcoming years. As the party of business, we must open doors for UK producers. One of these is the geographical indicator that elevates our products above their world-wide competitors and drives success for their owners.

Ms Crosbie, you have given us a gastronomic tour, not only of your constituency but of the whole country. If there are no further speakers, I come to the Minister.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, for the first time, Ms Ghani, and an enormous pleasure to speak in this very important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) on securing this debate on a fascinating topic. Everybody in the Room feels passionately about it and has spoken with such enthusiasm, both in the Room and outside while we were waiting.

I was not surprised to hear all Members talk about great Welsh food. Wales is home to the UK’s highest concentration of protected food and drink products, with a total of 16 protected products. I was brought up partially by my grandmother, who is 97 and avidly waiting for her covid vaccine in a care home on the Gower. She is somebody who believes that food is only good if it comes from Wales. She routinely used to turn up at our house when I was a small child,—and still would if she were able to travel at the moment—with a ham and a leg of lamb under her arm.

This became slightly more difficult when my aunt moved from South Wales to Sierra Leone. Granny set off to visit, as she was wont to do, with the leg of lamb in her suitcase. The leg of lamb sadly got lost in Sierra Leone airport and travelled around five African countries that we know of—it had stamps from them all—before reaching my aunt’s house, where, sadly, it was only fit for burial in the garden. My cousins, however, were equally excited—they were little girls as well, this is all over 40 years ago, I am sorry, but I think it is relevant to the debate today—

They were waiting for the chocolate biscuits, which were packed with the leg of lamb and had also travelled around Africa. Needless to say, they got eaten. I was brought up clearly knowing that Welsh lamb was far and away the best in the world and that other Welsh products, including laver bread, to which I know the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) is partial, are pretty good too. The Denbigh plum is of enormous interest to my own family, as plum growers for many years. I am pleased to confirm to the House that the Government will launch the UK GI schemes on 1 January. The new schemes will ensure that all existing UK and EU GI products will continue to receive protection under the schemes.

The fabulous APPG for geographically protected foods, which is so well led by its joint chairs, are working hard on this, and I understand that they are very keen—when covid restrictions permit—to have a launch event in the House for a new GI scheme. I would be very excited to attend and to try all the great produce that I hope will be available. I am happy to reassure hon. Members that, in addition to receiving protection under the UK schemes, all current UK GIs, including all Welsh products, will continue to receive protection in the EU and through future international trade agreements.

When the new UK GI schemes are launched in the new year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will seek to work with producers across the four nations, including, of course, in Wales, to use GIs as a tool to showcase our great British products, both in the UK and overseas. I really hope that logo will have sales value abroad; we are working closely with the Department for International Trade on that.

Welsh exports will be essential to our efforts to grow our collective reputation for quality food and drink around the world. Overall, the UK’s GI products represent about 25% of UK food and drink export value, which was about £6 billion last year, and we hope that will grow exponentially. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Welsh producers, including the Anglesey Sea Salt Company in the hon. Lady’s constituency, for their contribution in helping us to develop those smart new logos. I am sure hon. Members from across the House will be as delighted as I am to see the new logos on our products in the future.

I would like to thank everybody who has taken part in this debate. As we launch our new GI schemes in the new year, I encourage hon. Members from across the House to engage with DEFRA to help us to identify new opportunities for food and drink producers in Wales, and beyond.

Question put and agreed to

Sitting suspended.