Q. You will have been heavily involved in the Conservative Partys Honest Food campaign to stop meat products originating from another country being processed in the UK and subsequently sold as British produce. This has progressed to a Parliamentary Bill requiring meat and meat products labelled as British or carrying the Union flag to be born and bred in Britain. What is the current status and when can the public expect to see some change to this ongoing misrepresentation?
The current food labelling rules that allow meat to be imported and then labelled as British mislead consumers and let down our farmers. Our Honest Food campaign to give shoppers clearer information about the food they buy is supported by animal welfare and farming organisations alike. Weve signed up thousands of supporters and we know from surveys that the public strongly support our aims. The Government has admitted that theres a problem, but it has been feeble in response. While we made it clear that we would legislate to enforce honest labelling if necessary, the Government dithered. Of course we would prefer the retailers to accept their social responsibility to label food honestly, rather than Parliament having to pass new laws. So we are delighted that the major supermarkets are on board. Indeed, Tesco has announced it is to change 1000 of its labels to give clearer origin information. We now need all retailers and food manufacturers to follow suit – and well be pressing them to do so.
Q. Many UK foodservice operators are very keen to buy British but find that there is just not enough home-grown product around once the supermarkets have had their quota. British bacon being a case in point: can you see a way of increasing the availability of British bacon so that operators do not have to fall back on imported products?
If the demand is there British producers will respond, which is why it is essential that we maintain our productive capacity. I am pleased that many UK foodservice operators are keen to buy British and this must be facilitated but there is also evidence that supermarkets and Government departments, for example, are sourcing an increasing proportion of meat from overseas.
Q. Britains influence in European Agriculture policy making appears to be diminishing with the appointment of French or France-friendly politicians to key positions. What impact do you feel this will have on UK farming and the costs of buying British, and how would a Conservative administration tackle this thorny issue?
The UK Government was outmanoeuvred by France and Germany in the last round of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) negotiations and it appears that the same is happening again. It is absolutely vital that the UK engages fully and forcibly in the CAP reform process to ensure that the interests of our farmers and food industry are reflected in the final outcome. Labour ministers have convinced the rest of the EU that they are not interested so they are ignored. A Conservative government will engage at all levels so even though we may have different views on how policy should develop our partners will be in no doubt that we want to see our food and farming industry prosper. That is the only way to get our voice heard and promote a CAP which fosters a more productive, sustainable and competitive farming industry.
Q. Hilary Benn set up the The Council of Food Policy Advisers a while back and it produced its first report last month. How did you view the Governments response to this? If you form a government after the election will you continue with the Council? The Government is slowly waking up to the importance of domestic food production but still fails to introduce the measures necessary to help farmers sustainably boost production. It has stood in the way of our campaign to bring farmers closer to the market through honest food labelling, it loads costs onto the industry in the form of excessive red tape and regulation, and has no credible strategy to tackle bovine TB, which is resulting in the slaughter of tens of thousands of cattle each year.
Q. The Government as a whole purchases £2bn of food. Do you have any plans to rationalise the procurement of food in the public sector and how would a conservative government advance sustainable public food procurement?
The public sector has huge purchasing power but not a single rasher of bacon served to our Armed Forces is British. The Treasury buys barely half of its food from Britain. Downing Street doesnt even know how much of its food comes from this country. Labours failure to back local produce is shameful when the Government should lead by example. If the Conservatives win the next election, all Whitehall departments will be required to procure food that meets British standards of production, where this can be done without increasing overall costs. We want to see hospitals, schools and local authorities buying food sustainably, which is why we have asked Zac Goldsmith (eco- campaigner and Conservative parliamentary candidate for Richmond Park) to lead an advisory group to look at how we can extend our policy across the public sector. All the evidence is that local food neednt cost more in fact, it often leads to savings.
Q. At a recent Footprint Forum, the restaurateur and environmental campaigner, Cyrus Todiwala, revisited a topic he has championed for some time; that of the state paying foodservice operatives to collect waste as happens in India. I understand there is a scheme running in Conservative controlled Windsor and Maidenhead that does just this, albeit with domestic waste, that is working well. Do you see such a scheme being rolled out nationally should the Conservatives win the election?
In place of Labours bin taxes, the Conservatives will help every council to pay the public to recycle. Our pilot project in Windsor and Maidenhead, which was conceived by the Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, has increased recycling rates by 30 per cent. We plan to create a stable investment framework so that other councils can follow suit. The first Conservative budget will set out minimum rates for landfill tax until 2020, providing companies and councils with the certainty they need to plan for the long-term, keep council tax bills down and reward households for recycling.
Q. What plans do you have to support the investment in technology and infrastructure to ensure that less food waste is sent to landfill?
We must end our reliance on landfill and find greener ways to deal with waste, as well as recognising that waste is a resource which can be used for materials and energy. Labours failure to act means that Britain continues to lag behind our peer group countries in recycling rates and in using technology to deal with waste in more constructive and environmentally friendly ways. A future Conservative Government will put a floor under the 2013 level of landfill tax at £72 per
tonne until 2020. This will be indexed for inflation from that date. So businesses will have certainty for the next decade. We are sending a strong message to companies and councils that innovative approaches such as the Recyclebank in Windsor and Maidenhead can be developed with confidence. We are determined to ensure that damaging landfill is no longer regarded as the easy option, to achieve our goal of becoming a zero waste society, and make our country a better and greener place.
Q. UK foodservice has a major impact on the environment, yet general consensus in the industry is that what little help the current Government is providing is poorly directed and lacks co-ordination, leading, as one industry commentator put it, to a waste of time, energy and above all money. This is an industry that burns over 21 kWh of energy and adds 19 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in the space of a year, not to mention producing three million tonnes of food waste. Effectively managed cross- sector initiatives would therefore provide an opportunity to reduce the UK carbon footprint in sizeable chunks rather than small bites. Does a possible Conservative administration recognise the potential here and if so are there any plans you can talk about to this audience?
Our proposals for feed-in tariffs for power and heat will provide the incentive for food producers to invest in biogas plants thus utilising food waste as an energy source which can be used in the industrys own factories or sold into the grid.
Q. What would be different under a Conservative government as far as green issues are concerned and what negative impact would a fourth term of Labour have on the hospitality industry?
From the beginning of his leadership, David Cameron has put protecting our environment at the centre of the Conservative Partys mission where it will always be. The action that is needed to reduce our C02 emissions increasing energy efficiency, reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels and being at the cutting edge of new technologies in the energy industry is precisely the same action that is needed to prevent the power cuts the Government is predicting by 2017. And it will ensure that Britains consumers and businesses, not least in the hospitality industry, are protected against the consequences of volatile and rising oil prices into the future.