HC Deb 17 December 1998 vol 322 cc1090-1
11. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

What measures his Department is taking to improve the marketing of food to the benefit of both producer and consumer. [62995]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jeff Rooker)

The Department pursues a number of measures to improve marketing both for producers and for consumers. On 29 November—the first day of the Smithfield show—we announced a joint initiative with the National Farmers Union to encourage collaborative marketing among producers.

Dr. Iddon

My family have always been involved in the food production industry so I know that the producers often take the largest risk in the food production chain yet take out one of the smallest commensurate profits. What is my hon. Friend doing to redress that balance?

Mr. Rooker

My hon. Friend is right. That is why the collaborative marketing approach, which does not force producers into co-ops but enables them to produce on a small scale while still supplying the large suppliers on a large scale, is best. They can then produce both scale and quality. Of course, the big buyers want consistency of supply. Small producers cannot always provide that on their own, but they can do so in collaboration with other producers. We want to encourage the NFU and other producer groups to go down that route. My hon. Friend is right about who takes the biggest snatch in the food chain.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

Does the Minister agree that it is galling if producers co-operate in the interests of the highest food standards and marketing development, yet imports enter the country and readily circulate without the benefit of the precautions and high standards of British producers? Is it not important that the Minister should examine the entire supply chain from plough to plate, to try to ensure that it operates with maximum openness and in the interests of British consumers as well as British farmers?

Mr. Rooker

The hon. Gentleman is right. We want to build on the assurances that we received recently from the British Retail Consortium regarding its members. That is a major step forward and will help to ensure that British producers who, for example, maintain much higher animal welfare standards than our European partners, do not suffer because of that. We must find a mechanism for our buyers to force or encourage our European competitors to operate to the same high standards that we operate in this country.