The Government food strategy sets out what we will do to create a more prosperous agrifood sector that delivers healthier, more sustainable and more affordable food, including commitments to broadly maintain the level of food we produce domestically and to boost production in sectors with the biggest opportunities. We are also providing support to farmers to improve productivity.
With a greater emphasis on food security as a consequence of Putin’s war in Ukraine, does my right hon. Friend agree that her Department’s response to the independent Dimbleby review, only to maintain broadly the current level of domestic food production, lacks ambition? Will she now bring forward a national food strategy that not only commits to increasing food production significantly here in the UK but gives preference to the production of healthy food to tackle the growing threat of obesity, especially in children?
My hon. Friend is right to flag these issues, particularly Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, which is a reminder of the crucial importance of UK food producers to our national resilience. I do not intend to change the Government food strategy, but I am conscious that we need to ensure that food security, as the heart of our vision for the food sector, is delivered. That is why we will continue to maintain the current level of domestic food production, but there are opportunities, such as in horticulture and seafood, where we can do even better.
Some supermarkets are now rationing eggs and, ahead of Christmas, there is a real concern about the supply of turkeys. The British Free Range Egg Producers Association has said that a third of its members have cut back on production as a result of avian influenza. Can the Secretary of State say what the Government are doing to help poultry farmers through this very challenging time?
I understand that the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), is meeting the industry on a weekly basis. It is fair to say that retailers have not directly contacted the Department to discuss supply chains, although I am conscious of what is happening on individual shelves. Nearly 40 million egg-laying hens are still available, so I am confident we can get through this supply difficulty in the short term.
Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to visit Old Hall farm in Woodton in my constituency to see the excellent work done by Rebecca and Stuart Mayhew who use regenerative techniques to produce high-quality food that both protects the environment and reduces costs to the NHS through more healthy food?
My hon. Friend offers an interesting invitation. Given my diary, I cannot commit now, but his constituents’ work is exceptionally positive. We introduced the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill because we know we need to adapt some of our food production industries to be resilient for the future.
We will produce less food if we have fewer farmers. In just a few weeks’ time, the Government plan to take 20% of the basic payment away from farmers, at the same time that barely 2% have got themselves into the new sustainable farming incentive. Will the Secretary of State consider delaying the reduction in the basic payment scheme to keep farmers farming while she sorts out the mess in her Department on the environmental land management schemes? Will she also meet Baroness Rock at the earliest opportunity to discuss her important tenant review?
It has been well trailed for several years that we will shift from the EU common agricultural policy for distributing money to our farmers and landowners to using public money for public goods. That is why we have been working on the environmental land management schemes and will continue to make sure we get them right. We will make further announcements in due course.
Food production is vulnerable to animal disease, and we have heard about the impact of avian flu on supermarkets, which are limiting the sale of eggs. This week, the Public Accounts Committee highlighted what it describes as
“a long period of inadequate management and under investment in the Weybridge site”
of the Animal and Plant Health Agency. The PAC warned that the APHA would struggle if there were a concurrent disease outbreak. As the Secretary of State well knows, other diseases do threaten. Although staff are doing their very best, what is her plan if we face another disease outbreak, or is it just fingers crossed in the hope that it does not happen on her watch?
I have been at COP27 for the past few days, so I have not read all of the PAC report, but I reject its assertion that our biosecurity is not well done. We should be proud that the United Kingdom is protected against such diseases, and that will continue. That is why the APHA is an important part of what DEFRA does, not only for England but for the UK.
Some of the things that we require to ensure increased food production are good trade deals, and in a rare moment of understated candour, the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), has conceded that the much-trumpeted flagship Australian trade deal is “not…very good”, something any of us could have told him if he had been prepared to listen. Why does it take the resignation or sacking of former Secretaries of State to get that type of blunt candour? Does the Secretary of State agree that these rotten deals betray and let down all the sectors that she represents?