Writing exclusively in The Yorkshire Post today, Rishi Sunak says Britain’s ability to feed itself at a time of crisis will be “compromised” unless decisive action is taken.
His blueprint comes after Environment Secretary Liz Truss came under pressure in the House of Commons from an alliance of Conservative and Scottish National Party members about the inadequacy of the Government’s response to date.
Mr Sunak, a successful entrepreneur before entering politics and succeeding William Hague as Richmond MP at the general election, canvassed opinion from constituents and industry leaders for his farming framework, including an 80-year-old who says that he has never experienced such “tough” times in the dairy sector.
As well as encouraging more farmers to pool their financial resources to maximise their returns, he says there needs to be far greater clarity over the rules and regulations governing labelling while the Government should encourage the public sector to use its financial clout to buy local produce wherever possible.
The MP, a member of Parliament’s Environment Select Committee, also says there needs to be far greater transparency over milk prices so supermarket suppliers receive a far fairer deal.
“We know how much a farmer gets paid for a pint of milk, and we know how much we pay for it in the shops,” he writes. “What we don’t know is how big the margins are in-between. We need to work towards the kind of transparency that allows us to follow milk from farmer to shelf in order to ensure a fair price is being paid at every stage. Good supply chain practices then need to be enforced by a tough Grocery Code Adjudicator.
“With Britain already only 60 per cent self-sufficient in food, our country’s ability to feed itself in a time of crisis would be diminished. Only by working together can we preserve our dairy industry, and with it our beautiful countryside, for generations to come.”
His intervention came as Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans, the former deputy speaker, challenged Ms Truss, who grew up in Leeds, to order the aforementioned Grocery Code Adjudicator – the food industry’s ombudsman – to hold supermarkets to account. “A pound for four pints sounds wonderful for hard-pressed families but dairy farmers should not be part of the welfare system,” he said. “Can we ensure she gets into action as a matter of urgency before more dairy farmers go to the wall?”
In response, Ms Truss accepted that this was “a serious situation”. She added that a new working group will examine contractual issues and explore “how we share risk better along the supply chain so it’s not just farmers who are facing the consequences of low prices in the global market”.
Milk of human kindness: page 13.