Gove argued that the UK needed to move away from “bulk produce” to a strategy based on “quality and provenance”, speaking to the Food and Drink Federation’s (FDF’s) Summer Reception at the Houses of Parliament on Monday July 10.
He pledged that, as environment secretary, he would work closely with other government departments “in making sure that we can open new markets to our produce”.
Introducing Gove, FDF president and ceo of Premier Foods Gavin Darby referred to the “critical phase” the sector was living through, and the need for all players to collaborate in securing a strong future for UK food and drink manufacture.
While implying that he wanted to gather the views of stakeholders within the food and drink sector before making specific policy announcements, Gove suggested he was willing to work with other political parties in promoting the fortunes of the UK food and drink sector, since it received cross-party support.
“Provenance matters because, as we look at the future of the food and drink industry, our future does not lie in a ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ race to the bottom,” said Gove.
“Our future rests on stressing the strengths that British food and drink production have. And those strengths rest on quality; quality underpinned by the right environmental regulation; quality reinforced by animal welfare standards.
“And quality also underlined by the commitment of people – whether they are primary producers, or in hospitality or processing – making sure that people working in the industry are well-rewarded and provided with an opportunity to acquire new skills.”
Also speaking at the event, shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman remarked: “In the Labour Party, we believe that the high quality of our produce, combined with the environmental, safety and the animal welfare standards, set us apart internationally. We would promote British produce if we were in government, both at home and abroad.”
However, Hayman added: “Of course, one of the real risks of Brexit is that cheap and poor quality imports could flood our market, and what we’ve made clear in the Labour Party is that Brexit must not be used as an excuse to undercut farmers and food manufacturers.”
‘Real crisis happening now’
Hayman also raised the sector’s concerns about future access to non-UK EU nationals (“a real crisis that is happening now”) and the EU Single Market after Brexit. “What you in the industry are telling me you need is certainty and action from government now,” she said.
“We have been absolutely clear that in government, we would guarantee the rights of EU nationals employed across farming, fishing and food manufacturing and we would also reinstate the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme.”
Hayman called for Brexit negotiations to focus on securing food and drink jobs and a strong economy. She argued for continued access to the EU Single Market and Customs Union through “strong transitional arrangements”.
“About 80% of our agricultural exports go to the EU and a further 27% go to countries that have a free trade agreement with the EU,” said Hayman. “By far the majority of food and drink manufacturing businesses are small and medium-sized enterprises, so any heavy trade tariffs from a deal with the EU could be a disaster for many of them.
“I’m being told by those within the industry that these transitional arrangements are vital to provide certainty for businesses and investors, and we would support an early agreement to establish these strong transitional arrangements to enjoy those benefits we currently enjoy as members of the Single Market and the Customs Union.”
Don’t miss the Food & Drink Export Excellence 2017 conference, organised by the Food Manufacture Group, and sister William Reed titles British Baker and Meat Trades Journal, which takes place at the Ardencote Hotel, Warwick, on October 5. Delegates will be armed with key data about which markets and product categories offer the best prospects. Visit the event website for more details.