Mindful, maybe, of the spotlight on dairy, Stephen Phillips (Con, Sleaford and North Hykeham) kicked off by requesting the Secretary of State to focus on pork exports. Since 2010, Liz Truss responded, the industry has opened 600 new overseas markets, boosting foreign sales to £309m in 2013, up 26% from 2010. Her recent visit to China had left her with an impression of further opportunities; “major progress” was being made, she said.
Both Tulip and Cranswick were represented on the trip, she said: “We made progress on inward inspections – getting items such as trotters approved, which will open up more produce in this country – and we were able to announce the appointment of our first ever food and agriculture counsellor, based in Beijing, Karen Morgan, which will help to drive further business.”
Kerry McCarthy (Lab, Bristol East) flipped attention to Soil Association figures which claim that in the past four years Dutch farmers have cut antibiotic use by 58%, “which means British pig farmers now use more than three times more antibiotics than their Dutch counterparts”. Would it not make our exports more attractive to overseas markets if we followed the Dutch example and set a similar 50% target for reducing UK farm antibiotic use? Ms Truss said British farmers “are working on that”.
From pig trotters, Anne McIntosh (Con, Thirsk and Malton and chair of the EFRA committee) made a neat segue into dairy. She said she applauded the efforts of the Secretary of State to boost pig product sales from Karro at the Malton bacon factory in her constituency – but would she use her recent visit to China to expand dairy exports to help boost dairy production in this country? EFRA has just published a detailed and highly proactive report on the plight of many UK dairy farmers finding themselves loading tankers for prices well below their costs of production.
There are huge opportunities for dairy in China, Ms Truss responded, as the country moves inexorably towards greater consumption of dairy products. Chinese consumers currently consume a third of the dairy products that we consume in Europe, she said, but that is expanding rapidly.
Sir Andrew Stunell (Lib Dem, Hazel Grove), asking about the badger vaccination programme in Cheshire, was told the deadline for applications for the badger edge scheme, which supports privately-led vaccination in the edge areas of England and includes much of Cheshire, is 27th February. Decisions will be based on published criteria such as the size of the area, the location, value for money and operational readiness.
Turning from cows to dogs, Douglas Carswell (UKIP, Clacton), reminded the House that by 2016 it will be a legal requirement for all dogs to be microchipped.