Thursday, 16 June 2022

The Food Strategy

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister was at a farm outside Hayle to announce the government’s first-ever food strategy.  SEF is one of a number of major agri-businesses in this part of Cornwall. They are farming thousands of acres in West Cornwall producing courgettes and cauliflowers.  Of the five largest producers of brassica vegetables in the country, two are right here in the Hayle area with Riviera Produce being the other major local producer.  Whereas farming is often quite fragmented in some parts of the country, these businesses are highly organised and created hundreds of jobs in Cornwall.

Recent events and the impact of the Covid pandemic are a reminder that domestic food production matters.  During the first lockdown, the food supply chain responded to an unprecedented 50% surge in demand during an episode of panic buying, and they did not let us down. At every stage of the food system, from farming to manufacturing, distribution, and retail, key workers in the food industry showed extraordinary commitment and ingenuity, delivering an incredible logistical feat.

International food security comes from a combination of dispersed food production around the globe and open markets. In the UK, international trade has always been an important dimension of our food security. However, successful domestic production is what gives us national resilience in an uncertain world. Unlike other developed countries, The UK is largely self-sufficient in wheat, most meats, eggs, and some sectors of fruit and vegetable production. Overall, we produce around 75% of what we consume, and we are committed to maintaining this in the future.

The food strategy also seeks to address concerns about the cost of food. With agricultural commodities such as fertilizer fundamentally linked to global gas prices, we have committed to long-term measures to support a food system that offers access to healthy and sustainable food for all. This will build on and complement the measures we have already taken to support those struggling to afford food and help them eat healthily – through the Healthy Start Scheme, breakfast clubs, and the Holiday Activities and Food Programme.

The food industry also has a central role to play in the government’s leveling-up agenda. Successful and profitable agricultural production is crucial to the continued success of our food manufacturing industry. The food industry is bigger than the automotive and aerospace industries combined, and we have some brilliant examples right here in Camborne, Redruth, and Hayle – from Rodda’s clotted cream to many pasty manufacturers and companies like Furniss biscuits.  None of our food manufacturers could succeed without the farmers who supply them with high-quality produce. The food industry in Cornwall drives growth, creates jobs, and helps to promote regeneration.

There are also new challenges to address that will require the characteristic ingenuity of our food industry.  Poor diet has led to a growing problem of obesity, particularly among children. The human appetite evolved before the era of calorie-dense processed foods, and excess calorie intake is one of the drivers of obesity. Good progress has been made on reformulation in some categories such as soft drinks, crisps, and some breakfast cereals, however, there is still much more to do with government and industry working in partnership of promoting healthier diets.

Thursday, 9 June 2022

The Return of the Royal Cornwall Show

This week, after a two-year break, the Royal Cornwall Show returns. Sadly, for the last two years, it has been cancelled due to Covid, but it is positive to see it returning now as in previous years and I am very much looking forward to it.

I have many childhood memories of the Royal Cornwall show. When I was growing up my father was one of the many volunteer stewards who gave up his time each year to make the event possible, so it is great to be able to attend again in person. We’ve learnt a lot from Zoom, but I’m glad to be rid of it. Farming is real, it happens outdoors, and demonstration projects that you can see in action on the ground are so important. For many years we used to show our South Devon Cattle there and my brother will be there again this year with the family's prize-winning Lop-Eared Pigs, which is a rare breed native to Cornwall.
The sharp rise in gas prices internationally is affecting input costs for farmers.  Fertiliser and diesel prices have risen severalfold over the past year, and this is causing anxiety for some farmers.  However, since the 2016 referendum result, we have also seen the prices farmers receive for their products rise in most cases.  The price of beef, lamb and milk have all gone up considerably over the past few years and, as a result, farm incomes have been in a stronger position than they have for many years.  
We are developing our future agricultural policy now that we are free from the EU and in doing so, we want to support the choices that individual farm enterprises make.  This year we have announced a package of measures to help farmers reduce their reliance on expensively manufactured fertilisers by using more nitrogen-fixing legumes or other green cover crops that can reduce the amount of fertiliser a farmer needs to use on their land.  We have also increased the budget for new grants to support farmers who want to invest in their business, reduce their costs and improve their profitability.
 We have also recently introduced our new Genetic Technology Bill, which will enable the UK to take forward its lead in precision breeding techniques.  These new techniques enable plant breeders to accurately identify a trait in a particular variety of crops, such as natural resistance to a pest or disease and then transfer it to a different commercial variety of the same crop.  A rogue court judgement by the European Court of Justice in 2018 hampered the use of these technologies but we can now improve the law so that approaches to reduce the need for chemical pesticides can be progressed.
Of course, it has been a week of drama in Westminster with the Conservative Party having a vote of confidence in Boris Johnson as party leader.  Now that the vote is concluded and a decision made, it is important to press ahead dealing with the many issues our country faces as we emerge from the pandemic.  But I will be glad to get back to the Royal Cornwall Showground this week.

Thursday, 2 June 2022

The Platinum Jubilee

 This week we are not only celebrating the Queen’s official 96th Birthday with the Trooping of the Colour, but also the 70th year of her reign and her Platinum Jubilee. This is the first-ever Platinum Jubilee in British history and an important chance to give thanks to the remarkable monarch who has been head of state for seven decades, longer than Queen Victoria.  Her reign has covered a period of extraordinary change in post-war Britain with great technological, scientific, and social changes in the late 20th century.

I can just about remember the Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977, or at least people talking about it and being given a commemorative mug as a gift.

When she came to the throne in 1952, Queen Elizabeth was only 25 years old following the premature death of her father, King George VI.  In the early part of her reign, Britain was in the process of breaking up the empire and the Queen was instrumental in creating the Commonwealth of nations during that process, creating a looser alliance based on friendship and cooperation that has endured.

During her reign, the Queen has granted Royal Assent to over 4000 individual pieces of legislation, as well as undertaken 21,000 official engagements in over 100 countries. There have been 14 British Prime Ministers since she came to the throne and countless other Heads of State across the 54 countries that make up the Commonwealth.

The monarchy forms a special and unique part of the British constitution. I think our system is much better than the presidential systems we see elsewhere.  We separate our politics from the Royal Family.  Incumbent Prime Ministers act with power that is on loan from the Crown.  It means that our elected politics is more fluid and meritocratic than presidential systems where candidates tend to need financial means or fame to make it.  In the UK, while politicians come and go, the Crown provides consistency and predictability over the long term.  The monarch, as Head of State, symbolises Britain’s staying power and its ability to unite the nation in a common endeavour.

Cornwall also has a special relationship with the monarchy and a unique constitutional place in the United Kingdom as a Duchy. Many of us consider ourselves Cornish before English, but we are also proud to be British.

There will be events across the Camborne and Redruth area over the next few days to mark the occasion, including a street party in Redruth, a Jubilee picnic on Camborne Recreation Ground and other similar festivities in many of the local towns and villages. On Thursday 2nd of June, Camborne Town Council will be holding a Beacon Lighting Ceremony at 9:30pm in Commercial Square with a performance by the Holman’s Climax Male Voice Choir and a Bugler playing the Jubilee song. Nationally there will also be many events.  I hope that Her Majesty enjoys her Platinum Jubilee.

The Food Strategy

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister was at a farm outside Hayle to announce the government’s first-ever food strategy.  SEF is one of a nu...