Ulster Farmers’ Union president, Barclay Bell says he is pleased that there is a growing recognition by the UK Government of the importance of the agri-food industry.
Mr Bell’s comments come following the National Farmers’ Union Conference at the ICC in Birmingham this week which was addressed by a number of Ministers from the UK Government.
He added: “The farming industry currently faces a huge amount of uncertainty as the process of the UK leaving the European Union is now underway. Despite the recent progress that has been made with the UK/EU negotiations, this uncertainty remains, particularly in relation to the trading environment in which farm businesses will operate post-Brexit. I am however encouraged by commitments given by both DEFRA Secretary, Michael Gove, and Shadow Minister, David Drew that the UK would not be signing trade deals that meant UK producers were undercut on environmental or animal welfare standards. The DEFRA Secretary also clearly restated at the conference that there would be more scope than ever for the regional administrations of the UK to develop their own agricultural policies that best suits their unique circumstances.”
The UFU is also encouraged by the pledge made by Michael Gove to improve Government procurement to increase the amount of UK produce used by the state. His announcement that a thorough and comprehensive review of the farm inspection system will be undertaken is also welcome, although it has yet to be clarified if this review will be conducted throughout the UK.
Mr Bell added: “The UK Government has also recently unveiled plans for a modern industrial strategy and we are particularly encouraged by the level of engagement with the agri-food industry by both the UK Secretaries of State for DEFRA and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We welcome the establishment of a UK Food and Drink Sector Council to ensure that Government works closely with all sectors of the agri-food industry to effect positive change.
“The Union is however disappointed by the recent response from Government to the review of the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) not to extend the GCA’s remit to farmer and grower indirect suppliers to the retailers as we have been pushing for this for some time. However, we are pleased that the Government has recognised that the imbalance of power within the food supply chain remains, and we welcome that a number of specific measures have been proposed to help farmers, in some way, to addressing this imbalance,” he added.