Food imports look set to stay

Source: FWi 25 November 2002

By Isabel Davies

FOOD and farming minister Lord Whitty has told farmers that the government does not believe Britain should be self-sufficient in food.

Britain is part of the global economy and farmers should compete on the world market, he told journalists at the Royal Smithfield Show.

"A [self-sufficiency] target is not what drives policy," Lord Whitty said on Monday (25 November). "Being competitive drives policy."

The minister made his remarks as Prince Charles prepared to tour the four-day show at Earls Court in London.

The Prince has made it publicly clear that he believes that Britain, as an island, should produce more of its own food.

But Lord Whitty said Common Agriculture Policy reform and World Trade Organisation agreements would continue to push farming towards the global market.

British farmers could tackle imports and compete for exports if producers became became more competitive, he added.

"I do believe that we can trade, both in terms of competing with imports and exports, effectively with the best production of livestock and in other areas."

The minister, who holds a junior post within the department of rural affairs, was forced to defend Margaret Beckett's absence from the flagship event.

Rural affairs minister Mrs Beckett was attending an international conference on sustainability, said Lord Whitty.

"I think that what you agriculture correspondents forget is that agriculture is only part of Defra's wide-ranging responsibilities," he said.

"That is positive for agriculture as it means agriculture is part of a bigger picture. But it does mean the secretary of state has wider responsibilities."