Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cameron bangs food security drum

The popularity of the new rhetoric of food security is shown by its adoption by British Conservative Party leader, Dave Cameron, in address to the 100th anniversary conference of the National Farmers' Union. He revealed that he is himself a NFU member, although presumably one of the 'green welly' variety.

The job of the Leader of the Opposition is to question government policy and one can't blame him for jumping on any convenient bandwagon that comes on. Food security gave a coherent theme to a speech that was otherwise trying to push every possible button. Raising the spectre of a return to food rationing is a good way of dramatising some of the current changes in global food supply.

It's a bit harder to tease out from the speech what his remedies are. What he does make clear is that he is against a return to protectionism and trade barriers and to production linked subsdidies.

He seems to think that British farmers could produce more food for the domestic consumer if the burden of regulation was reduced. Standards in Britain are claimed to be more onerous than elsewhere in the EU. So, it is argued, one needs regulation that is based on outcomes, not processes, and on trust. What this seems to mean is more self-regulation and reliance on peer pressures with penalties only for the tiny minority of farmers who abuse trust.

All fine in principle, but how does this square with his emphasis on failings in animal health regulation at the beginning of his speech? Of course, the NFU is now blaming 'hobby farmers' for the second wave of the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Surrey last September. Smallholders have hit back by claiming that they often spend more on proper prevention practices than do commercial farmers, while others have argued that hobby farmers should not be demonised.

In time Dave Cameron may come to learn that the politics of farming brings you few votes and a lot of grief.


Anonymous said...

Taxpayers and consumers should not be forgotten by politicians.

Anonymous said...

We need food security. Why should we be forced to be dependent on other nations as we are for our energy. Politicians are right to worry about the issue. Taxpayers need food to. I do not see the point in having massive famines and saying well atleast we kept wealthy people's taxes down.

Wyn Grant said...

The situation in relation to energy is very different because theer is something close to a monopoly supplier of gas in particular: Russia. There is not a monopoly supplier of food. It should be possible to sell food on a market like any other commodity. Famines are a result of an inability to purchase not a lack of supply. And it certainly isn't just wealthy people who pay substantial taxes.