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  Farming in Norfolk

This speech was given in the chamber of the House of Commons on 22 October 2002

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): I join my hon. Friends and others in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) on securing this important debate. I also congratulate her and her colleagues on the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on visiting Easton college in my constituency to listen to local people from Norfolk who are involved in the farming and food processing industries. The information is still coming in, as my right hon. Friend mentioned, and I shall refer to some of it, and especially to points about the pig farming industry, which is enormously important to my constituency.

I do not want to dwell on biofuels or sugar beet, which were mentioned extensively by my hon. Friends, but I endorse what they said. I hope that the Minister will tell us what the Government plan to do because biofuels and sugar beet are important to farmers throughout Norfolk.

When considering the regime for food imports to which my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) referred, few people have complete confidence that food imports meet the stringent requirements that are placed on our own producers. That applies especially to poultry and pig farming, which are not subsidised by the taxpayer. People in those sectors have no confidence that the Government have taken on board the need to ensure that food imports meet our standards.

We must do more about food labelling and labelling food with its country of origin. We are currently discussing cigarette advertising and it is worth noting that the size and shape of health warnings on cigarette packets are determined statutorily. There is no reason why simple labels giving a food's country of origin that allow the consumer to support the British farmer, if he or she wishes, should not be determined in a similar way. The fact that there is no such statutory labelling of a food's country of origin allows people to get away with what most people would regard as tricks - importing food from overseas, putting cellophane around it and calling it Norfolk sausages. Neither we, nor our constituents, want that. I want the Government to make progress.

I am not confident that supermarkets are doing sufficient to promote British produce. Although they occasionally have food campaigns for various countries, we are entitled to expect this country's supermarkets to support British agriculture. If we want a farmed landscape, as my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk said, it is up to us all in the community and in business to support that. The supermarkets do not do nearly enough.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) mentioned illegal imports. The Government might have done something about that - I have been discussing it with the Minister for nearly a year since we both served on the Committee that considered the Animal Health Bill. It is perceived that not enough is being done, although every report from the Curry report to the report by Devon county council on foot and mouth has mentioned the problem. I recently made two flights from abroad to United Kingdom airports, and to use my hon. Friend's description, the information campaign was certainly not in-your-face. We need more action.

My final point relates to gold-plating regulations. At the meeting at Easton college, Mr. Philip Richardson, a distinguished and well-known pig farmer from my constituency, said that people in his industry had identified 20 areas in which the Government were gold-plating pig industry regulations. One example relates to the directive on the welfare of farm animals, which requires that sows and gilts shall have permanent access to manipulative material. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs version is:

"All pigs must have permanent access to a sufficient quantity of material such as straw, hay, wood, sawdust, mushroom compost, peat or a mixture of such, to enable proper investigation and manipulation activities."

The Department should have asked a vet whether it is sensible to have peat anywhere near a pig. Peat is full of bugs, so are we seriously suggesting that the Government will require farmers to sterilise their peat before they make it available to their pigs? We can avoid such situations in 20 subject areas, and I will happily provide a full list to the Minister if he wishes.

I did not think that I would have time to mention planning, but it is worth stressing that vacant farm buildings - a main asset for farmers - need close attention from central Government if planning authorities are not to get in the way of promoting our farming communities.

See also:
SPEECHES: Food Labelling
SPEECHES: Biofuels

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