HC Deb 23 February 1995 vol 255 cc472-3
5. Mr. Nigel Griffiths

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent discussions he has had with farmers about the problems they face in dealing with supermarkets.

Mr. Jack

My right hon. Friend and I frequently talk to farmers about the importance of producing for the customer, including supermarkets, and our marketing grants provide practical help towards that end.

Mr. Griffiths

Does the Minister share the concerns of the National Farmers Union about the future funding of regional speciality food groups, which help redress the balance between producers and supermarkets, and does he share our concerns about the uncertainty of their future funding?

Mr. Jack

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned the assistance given by groups such as Food From Britain to small, regional groups that produce speciality food. He will no doubt know about organisations such as Taste of the West and Taste of the North West. I have no indication whatever that future financial assistance to help those groups will not be forthcoming.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Does my hon. Friend accept that farmers raise animals to be eaten, not slaughtered at birth? In his talks with farmers and dealings with supermarkets, will he stress the importance of producing rose veal? Will he ask the Parliamentary Secretary to stress at her seminar tomorrow the importance of supermarkets buying only rose veal, preferably home-produced?

Mr. Jack

My hon. Friend will be well supported by one British supermarket, which has already said that its future marketing plans for veal will be precisely as she described. Supermarkets are sometimes unjustly criticised with regard to promoting welfare systems for animals. A number of them make it a feature of the meat that they produce, and they market accordingly. They are doing a great deal to encourage and support the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to promote high standards of welfare in livestock production.

Mr. Martyn Jones

Is the Minister aware that farmers of products such as lettuces and early-season tomatoes often gear up their business to meet the demands of supermarkets, only to have the rug pulled from under them by imports? Has the Minister any specific ideas to remedy that problem?

Mr. Jack

The hon. Gentleman should do his research properly, certainly with regard to early-season tomatoes and some newer varieties of lettuce because the partnership between supermarkets and growers has enabled those new varieties to be grown. The resurgence of the Little Gem lettuce is but one example of how supermarkets have helped. As for pulling the rug, I had a seminar with some of the leading buyers of supermarket produce and, on the subject of apples, they agreed that if they got the right product, they would not buy from outside the United Kingdom. Last season they bought no Dutch Cox, in spite of a price advantage, and they thereby supported producers of high-quality Cox apples.

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