Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Meat and Livestock Commission (G13)

  Thank you for giving the Meat and Livestock Commission the opportunity to submit written evidence to your Committee's inquiry into the role of DEFRA. As requested, we enclose comments on the direction DEFRA is taking, rather than on the details of DEFRA activity over the past year.

  Firstly, we welcome the establishment of the new Department. The amalgamation of policy decision-making on the environment into agriculture, food and rural affairs is a logical step and one which, to a greater or lesser extent, is also being adopted in Brussels.

  We recognise the Government's wish to put sustainability and the interests of consumers and our rural communities at the heart of food and agriculture policy-making.

  We also welcome the decision to integrate the environment, food and rural affairs into one department, to enable officials and Ministers to take a more joined-up approach to British sustainable food production.

  We acknowledge that the creation of a major new Government Department takes time. Our experience is that DEFRA has made a good start, but is still "bedding down", and it may well be another six to nine months before both structural and staff changes are finalised. We are aware that there are difficult issues in terms of staff conditions which need to be resolved.

  However, we would stress that the DEFRA should not lose sight of the urgent need to improve the efficiency of the food chain (and the red meat supply chain in particular), and to ensure sustainable competition at all stages of the food chain. Only by doing this will the British meat industry have a sustainable future.

  MLC's Vision is that within five years the industry can be a world-class, trusted, efficient supply chain delivering a product preferred by consumers.

  We believe that this can be brought about by:

    —  communicating what the consumer wants back down the supply chain;

    —  a significant improvement in the eating quality of British product, compared with the competition;

    —  a meat and livestock industry that meets the needs of modern consumers;

    —  a step change in the integrity and competitiveness of the supply chain.

  It is particularly in achieving this last aim that DEFRA's policies and support can make a difference. Much remains to be done.

  More widely, changes in global, EU and national policy reflect the fact that priorities for major industrialised countries are decreasingly concerned with conventional food production—this trend is reflected by shifts away from the subsidisation of primary production.

  There is also a widespread perception that the CAP is currently too costly, rewards the wrong producers and requires reform. There is a willingness to subsidise primary production so long as this results in goods and services that match the changing needs of society, which include creating a livestock industry sympathetic to, and working in harmony with, the environment.

  But, in developing policies which move away from conventional production subsidies towards agri-environmental schemes, DEFRA must not lose sight of the underlying market realities:

    —  consumers expect a wide choice of food products offered in a variety of settings (ie retail, foodservice, catering etc), ranging in cost, ease of preparation and taste;

    —  they demand products that suit every budget as well as appropriate hygiene standards, with as much transparency and traceability as is practical for the industry to supply; and

    —  consumers also expect those involved to receive a return from farming and food production that reflects the investment of effort made, and the opportunity to compete on a level playing field.

  MLC will assist DEFRA in developing practical policies to encourage the British red meat industry to become sustainable, profitable and competitive. In return, we would urge the Department always to focus on consumer needs when moving towards sustainable food and farming.

  We hope these comments will assist the Committee in its inquiry. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any queries about our submission.

31 May 2002

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