Last week saw the annual launch of the NFU’s Back British campaign, aimed at retailers, politicians, and consumers and designed to put British-produced food at the top of everyone’s shopping lists.
UK producers are world beating, with high standards and phenomenal products rich in nutrients and of a benefit to the economy at every level. But not all of it makes it to tables; a proportion is left behind or rejected and has historically formed part of the enormous volume of food sent to landfill or energy production.
My reason for being at the launch? Well, City Harvest was announced as the NFU membership’s farm gate waste partners. Using the simple specification If you would eat it, we will collect it, we have pledged to collect from anywhere in the country, returning bins or off hiring crates, ensuring that no good food goes to waste and that hungry people in all the major cities of the UK get the food they so desperately need.
A meal cooked with British ingredients has values at every level; excellent nutrition, the care of the environment in which it is produced and the environmental benefits of local food, not imported or manufactured meals.
NFU President Minette Batters also shared the progress of the NFU’s lobbying to get a Buy British button added to retailers’ online shopping portals, enabling shoppers to sort available lines by placing home grown/produced products at the top of the options. Backed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, negotiations with retailers are ongoing and the mood seemed positive that greater visibility and branding of British lines will be seen soon.
Also speaking at the event was the Secretary of State Terese Coffey. While she might not be the most popular incumbent of the role, I have some sympathy for her; while Minette was speaking everyone was silent and listening to every word, but when the Minister spoke a number of private conversations and negative commentaries rumbled around the room.
How are we ever to get the focus of our government officials if we can’t be polite? To have to ask a senior, elected officer of the NFU to be quiet when the secretary of state was speaking is shameful (and no, it wasn’t one of the southern elected chairs).
Ms Coffey spoke about the targets being set for export, the challenges of transitioning out of Basic Payments, the support being offered for the new pick-and-mix range of options within the Environmental Land Management scheme and supporting productivity, as well as re-announcing the £50m barn solar initiative.
She also spoke about the need to change the abattoir situation, reminding those present of the £4m fund to aid the establishment of small and mobile abattoir units to encourage growth which is good for animal welfare.
Once the secretary of state had left it was the turn of the Shadow Secretary, Steve Reed. The atmosphere was a fantastic example of how incredibly early positioning ahead of the election has begun.
The mood in the room changed, he had the attention of the audience and he very clearly knew Minette and the NFU team well. Well-briefed and erudite, Steve spoke about his drive for Labour to be the party for farmers, celebrating the very best of food and its producers. He said it was his job to scrutinise government and that he had found them lacking.
His priority list:
1. Ensuring fairer trade is open to British farmers, removing trade barriers with the EU, bringing in trade deals that will not disadvantage British farming
2. Supporting British production by public procurement, with a target of 50% of volume
3. Treating food security as a national security issue.