21st March 2014

George Eustice (Con, Cambourne & Redruth and DEFRA Under-Secretary of State) is being kept busy responding to queries on the fallout from the floods and the enduring topic of badgers. Catherine Paice reports.

Sarah Wollaston (Con, Totnes) wanted clarification about the Farming Recovery Fund. The £10 million fund for farm businesses was for the restoration of agricultural land, she was told.

On the issue of badger culling, Mr -Eustice confirmed that there had been no differentiation between infected and uninfected badgers. The Randomised Badger Culling Trial provided evidence on the typical prevalence of TB in badgers in areas of high incidence. The aim of the pilot culls was to test the effectiveness, humaneness, and safety of controlled shooting, and the methods tested in the Randomised Badger Culling Trials were not repeated during the pilots.

Speaking in advance of the debate on the issue at the end of last week, Mr Eustice admitted that the Independent Expert Panel’s report on badger culls in Somerset and Gloucester would not be published before the debate. He said the Secretary of State, Owen Paterson (spotted quietly making a comeback from his eye operation) was considering the report and it would be published “in due course”.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Lab, Ogmore), trying to find out how much Pillar 2 (Rural Development) had been allocated in cash and percentage terms to date, was informed that the total EU budget last year was £3.225 billion and the amount spent in cash to the end of December 2013 was £2.625bn (81%).

Professor Chris Elliot of Queens University Belfast caused a stir with his assertion that the food industry operates in a culture of “casual dishonesty”. Mr Eustice’s response? It was the responsibility of the food industry, he said, to review its systems and make sure food was safe and accurately described. He pointed out that Mr Elliot had also said that UK consumers had access to, perhaps some of the safest food in the world.

The horsemeat fraud scandal of 2013 had flagged up the potential for criminal activity in the industry, but it remained the responsibility of food companies themselves to ensure that standards were enforced and they were in control of their supply chains.

The Government had been working with the food industry to encourage better sharing of intelligence such as test results, and was considering Mr Elliot’s recommendations. These recommendations would be presented in a report to be published later in the spring.

Still on comestibles, no fewer than 50 MPs turned up to the spring reception of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cheese, sponsored by DairyUK. They outnumbered the cheesemakers by almost 10 to one.

The mountain of British cheese on offer guaranteed a strong attendance to hear DairyUK’s new chief executive Judith Bryans appeal for different government departments – notably DEFRA and the Department of Health – to stop giving mixed signals to consumers about the health attributes (or otherwise) of cheese and dairy products.

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