PM hopeful promises deregulation and expansion of seasonal workers scheme to help shore up UK’s food security
Former Defra secretary and front runner to be the next Prime Minister, Liz Truss, has said she wants to improve food security in Britain by cutting red tape and expanding the seasonal workers scheme.
Meeting with farmers in the southwest of England on 31 July, Truss promised to “unleash British food and farming in order to improve the nation’s food security” and “remove onerous EU regulations and red tape” if she becomes PM.
She didn’t go into great detail on which laws she would do away with but according to The Daily Mail this could include restrictions on using drones which can be used for targeted fertilising.
She also said she would tackle labour shortages in farming with a short-term expansion of the seasonal workers scheme – a pledge that follows a recent government report warning that shortages “caused by Brexit and accentuated by the pandemic” were causing fruit to be left rotting on the trees.
The Times reported that aides said the foreign secretary would consider lifting the 40,000 annual cap on the number of migrants allowed into the UK to harvest fruit and vegetables.
And according to The Daily Mail, a source said Truss would work on designing a new scheme together with the farming industry.
If made PM, Truss pledge to review “poultry, livestock and dairy, horticulture and animal health regulations to simplify processes and ensure sector resilience and adaptability.”
Speaking last night, she said: “The pandemic and cost-of-living crisis have shown it is more vital than ever for us to ensure we have a high-quality and affordable supply of British food.
“As a former Defra Secretary of State, I understand the challenges faced by farmers and they can trust me to deliver the changes they need. I will cut the red tape that is holding them back and hitting them in their pocket.”
The FDF’s chief executive Karen Betts said: “I’m delighted to see Liz Truss putting food production at the heart of her leadership campaign today (31 August)… We need to work with the government to tackle soaring inflation, which is straining household budgets and putting businesses in our sector under real pressure. Rethinking and streamlining regulation, along with finding solutions to labour shortages and opportunities to boost productivity, would make a huge difference.”
However, NFU president Minette Batters has warned that there is not enough attention on food production in the UK, calling for a special hustings for Tory leadership contenders to discuss food security.
In an article for The Mail on Sunday, Batters wrote: “To date we’ve had absolutely no plan or commitment from the Government that Britain will carry on its role as a food-producing nation.
“Quite often, the farmers’ view is that our role as food producers is being made more difficult, rather than less, that food is viewed as just an unfortunate by-product of delivering for the environment. Our ancestors who have lived through food shortages would be turning in their graves. We should all be concerned about this abject failure by Government to take seriously the pressing problem of feeding our nation.”
She added that Britain relies on the rest of the world for 40 per cent of its food, and asked why the UK doesn’t take its food securing as seriously as its energy efficiency.
She wrote: “When the NFU asked the Government to give a commitment that we would maintain that figure of 60 per cent self-sufficiency, it didn’t take the opportunity.
“The next Prime Minister has a chance to put this right.”