The final session at the NFU Conference 2013, was an interesting and informative one. Not only did they discuss, in detail, the horsemeat scandal, but they also looked at the links between farmers and the food industry, with the end customers’ demands also in mind.
The panel, which was chaired by Adam Quinney, the NFU Vice President, were discussing DNA testing, supply chain inspections, food security, championing farming and buying British. Other things that were mentioned included social media and customer demands.
One member of the audience even asked the panel if there was a viable demand for horse burgers from the public...
Kate Jones, Head of Co-Operative Farms, said: "On the horsemeat scandal, we have let you down as farmers and also our customers. We have committed to stringent DNA testing, working rigorously with processors so we can reassure customers. Britishness delivers for worried consumers. Higher welfare and value for money are key and we're confident that British farming delivers."
Ms Jones reassured delegates that DNA testing costs will be picked up by The Co-Operative, not by farmers.
Shadow Food and Farming minister, Huw Irranca Davies, said: "The holy grail of food production can be summed up in three parts. It must be affordable, with wider environmental / social benefits and food security. The best of British produce can help feed domestic and international demand. Labour will be seeking views on food policy in the next couple of months and we urge you to take part."
Warren Anderson, Vice President - Supply Chain, McDonalds Restaurants Ltd said: "We only use two companies to produce our beef patties, sourced from quality assured beef, with no fillers or trimmings. And social media is a vital part of staying in touch with what our customers and thinking and feeling.
Chris Newenham, Director Wilkins & Sons Ltd, said: "For us it's about quality, integrity and independence. The first Tiptree preserves were produced in 1885. People are at the heart of our business, only very recently one family of three brothers clocked up 150 years of service between then. We're fruit growers, living in the driest county, we reuse as much waste water as possible. we've built up relationships with schools and colleges, welcoming around 3,000 visitors to our farm every year."
East Sussex member Gillian van de Meer demanded support from the food industry to fund a national event to showcase food and farming.
Huw Irranca davies Mp said: "we need to do more about protected status foods, like other countries. Our volume of protected food is significant. Perhaps not an event but more regionally. There is scope for government to assist with this as we don't shout loud enough about what we do in every part of the UK."
Warren Anderson said: "It's a great idea, but the Olympics was the greatest show on earth, the biggest catering operation ever launched. And we brought our British and Irish farmers into the Olympic Park to showcase what they do for our restaurants."
The Co-Operative's Food To Fork scheme has shown 80,000 children the link between farmers and the food on their plate.
NFU member Minette Batters questioned the whole panel on the importance of food security alongside the environment.
Huw Irranca-Davies MP said: "Food security is critical domestically, but it's also got to be done alongside animal welfare, wider environmental gains and affordable produce on the table. That's our challenge as an industry."
NFU member Rob Harrison asked about bovine TB, specifically addressing the shadow minister and the Labour Party's stance on the proposed badger cull.
Huw Irranca-Davies MP said: "I realise this is a hugely emotive area, the government's approach does not turn the disease around but slows the increase. We need an alternative way to do this, other than culling, like Australia."
Members were vocal as Huw explained the Labour Party's perspective. Adam Quinney directly addressed the minister to say that there are many that would disagree.
On the future of the AWB, NFU member Anthony Snell said: "We can a manage our own rates, so why does the shadow minister still support it?"
Huw Irranca-Davies said: "The AWB doesn't just do the minimum wage, so it's wrong at this stage to remove it. This would take up to quarter of a billion pounds out of the rural economy."