Midlands MP Caroline Spelman named Defra head

Conservative Caroline Spelman has become the new Secretary of State for Defra as a new government has taken shape, involving a Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition.

The Midlands MP becomes the first Conservative head of the department after it was created by Tony Blair’s administration in 2001 to replace the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Spelman has a background in agriculture and represents the Meriden seat, which has a mixture of urban and rural areas.

She said: “I will work across government and beyond to respond to the challenges of increasing food production, adapting to climate change, protecting our natural environment and ensuring we live sustainably.”

Jim Paice, South East Cambridgeshire MP (Con) has meanwhile been appointed Defra Minister of State. His website said: "From school he spent two years working on farms before attending Writtle Agricultural College and starting a career in farm management. For eight years before his election he was a Director of a training and management development company which was owned by a large farmer-owned business."

Both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats represent the vast majority of rural seats in the UK and agree on many food and farming policies. These include introducing a supermarket code and looking into a badger cull, as part of a wider strategy to tackle bovine TB, although this was not mentioned in the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

The end of a Labour Government calls time to the tenure of Hilary Benn, who held the Defra Secretary of State post for nearly three years.

Benn had a roller-coaster relationship with the UK farming community, holding an urban seat, revealed to be a vegetarian and deciding not to implement a badger cull, called for by a large majority of farmers.

London MP Jim Fitzpatrick, another vegetarian, also ends his time as farming minister with less than a year in the role after the resignation of Jane Kennedy in June 2009 over former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s leadership style.

One meat producer is already lining up to talk to the Defra team and reckons improving exports will reduce the deficit.

Janan Meat MD Naved Syed said: “Halal meat is a billion-pound business and we need to get an export market opened up to keep the deficit down. I hope to meet soon with the new farming minister and build bridges.

“I also hope the the new Goverment of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats does not ignore the halal market, like the old Labour Government did.”

>>Hilary Benn dismisses calls for bovine TB cull

>>New farming minister is a veggie

>>Halal supplier slams FSA appointment

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