Gove admits Defra has neglected food production in formulation of policy

Defra Secretary Michael Gove has admitted his department has failed to talk enough about food production as it pieces together a post-Brexit farming policy.

Mr Gove made the remarks in answer to a question from Farmers Guardian during an interview with trade press at a Sustain event in London this week.

Asked whether the Government would be releasing a separate food plan because both the future farming policy consultation and 25-year environment plan were almost silent on food production, Mr Gove said: “I think it is a fair point to say we need to talk more about food and this is one the things which has come out through the consultation.

“In the past, people would have thought a food policy driven by Defra would have been all about increasing yield.

In my view, quality matters as well as quantity, and if you are going to have a modern food policy, it needs to be about making sure food is produced in a way which enhances human health and respects animal welfare.

“It is only by saying we are doubling down on a quality argument we can win in the future.”

Despite his acknowledgement of the importance of food production, the Secretary of State repeated claims farmers were overusing pesticides and fertilisers in a speech before the interview, making clear he wanted them to be applied ‘more sparingly’ in future to improve soil health and water quality.

Though he did not explain how farmers would be encouraged to reduce their chemical use, one of Defra’s key advisers, Professor Dieter Helm, used a recent interview with FG to outline plans for a tax on these products after Brexit.

Mr Gove also said he wanted as many people as possible to respond to the consultation to ensure future policy was not shaped by ‘vested interests with the money, connections or power’ to push their agenda.

His comments come just two weeks after fellow Tory MP Zac Goldsmith said the Secretary of State was ready to take on the ‘vested interests’ represented by the NFU.

Asked by FG if he was thinking of the union when making the speech, Mr Gove said: “My view is the more people who participate the better, so I did not have anyone in mind.

“I wanted to ensure an audience here, which is composed of people who can come at these issues from a variety of different areas, feel their views are valued.”

Published by our sister company Farmers Guardian.  Follow their Brexit hub for all the latest updates.

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