Miliband pushes all the right buttons

David Miliband, the recently

appointed secretary of state for food, farming and the environment, pressed all the right buttons when he spoke at a question and answer debate at the Royal Show this week, although he avoided any policy commitment.

However at least, by common consent, he provided a welcome change of tone to his predecessor Margaret Beckett.

His concept of "one planet farming" may take some getting used to although the general line was endorsed by Peter Kendall, NFU president, and Sir Don Curry, who is pushing ahead with development of the government's sustainable food and farming policy.

"One planet farming means respecting the limits of our natural resources and nurturing them," said Miliband. "Our goal should be farming as a net contributor to the environment.

"But the responsibility is not yours alone. We need your

entrepreneurship and innovation and you have a right to expect our help: funds to pay for environmental stewardship, regulation to help promote a profitable sector that shares the burden of preventing and responding to animal health risks, negotiation to deliver a level playing field in Britain, Europe and across the world, and persuasion to promote a higher level of demand for home grown produce."

This meant the government drawing up a long-term framework, in return for clear commitment from the industry about embarking on transformational change, leading to the CAP and budget reform discussions in 2008 and 2009.

This would require the industry to invest in key areas of public service, he said, including animal welfare, with the responsibilities of the cost of ensuring animal health and welfare being shared more equally between state and industry.

He also accepted there was a continuing case for reducing the regulatory burden. "My approach is simple: if the NFU or anyone else can make a well-founded complaint about a regulation, we will justify it, reform it or ditch it." Miliband also revealed that strengthening the links between production and consumption would be another key target.

The NFU's Kendall said he found little to disagree with on the minister's broad brush strokes policy. Instead he delivered a 10-point shopping list of issues that needed resolving, topped by a demand to resurrect the meaning of the word "Common" in front of agricultural policy

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