Thursday, 10 June 2010

Royal Cornwall Show

Today I will be up early in the morning to make my way to the Royal Cornwall Showground in time for a breakfast meeting with local farmers.

There before me will be the many volunteer stewards who keep the show on the road. I remember when I was growing up, we would often come up to the show with my father who was a steward on one of the gates. It often meant a 5am start and made for a long day.

Some agricultural shows have suffered in recent years but the Royal Cornwall remains one of the strongest. I think you can put that down to the strength of community spirit down here in Cornwall. As well as being a major agricultural show it is an important meeting place where we bump in to old friends that we haven't seen since last year.

One of the things I hope people will see from the new coalition government is a better understanding of farming and rural communities than we have seen in recent years.

We used to have the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. But the last Government removed any mention of farming from the title. You couldn’t escape the feeling that they thought farming was an old industry that didn’t really fit in with their “new” agenda.

I was brought up at Trevaskis Farm and spent the first nine years of my working life in the fields. I think the issue of how and where our food is produced runs far deeper than just economics. If we want to protect our environment, have healthy food and raise animal welfare standards then we must produce food as close as possible to the communities that consume it. We should not be traipsing livestock over long distances or flying vegetables half way round the world.

Our self sufficiency in food has fallen sharply in the last decade and "food security" has started to be recognised as a concern. We need to reverse that and support local producers.

There are things that government can do to help. First, we need to curtail the power of supermarkets who all too often abuse their position in anti- competitive practices which undermine producers. So we need a powerful new watchdog that brings them into line.

Next, the least government can do is buy British food itself. So we need to make sure that government departments buy produce that comes up to British standards.

And finally, we need to make sure consumers know what they are buying so we need to improve labelling to get rid of misleading claims that food is British when in some cases it has only been processed in Britain.

It’s a start but as someone whose heart is still in the countryside, I want to find out what else needs to be done and where better to start than the Royal Cornwall Show.