NFU Conference: Which party will deliver best plan for British food?

As the 2024 NFU conference aims to explore the topic: ‘British Food: What plan for the future?’, NFU president Minette Batters opened the event with a call for politicians to commit to providing food security. 

NFU Conference: President Batters calls for right plan for British food amid ‘crucial’ election 

The annual NFU conference is being held over two days, 20th and 21st February 2024 in Birmingham. 

In her opening address, NFU president Minette Batters highlighted the solutions put forward in the NFU’s general election manifesto and the need for all political parties to commit to giving food security the same strategic priority as energy security, and sustainable food production the same ambition as legislated environmental targets. 

She said that the upcoming election will be “critical” to not only the future of UK farming, but also for the food on the supermarket shelves, as well as in pubs, hotels, bars and restaurants. 

‘We must see changes’

Mrs Batters added: “There is a reason why countries invest in food production. It is to mitigate risk and volatility for consumers and give farmers the confidence to keep producing food. But global events have challenged British agriculture, adding to the instability and volatility farmers and growers are facing, when what they really need is certainty.  

“That’s why I ask today, which political party will have the right plan for British food? Which party will deliver the core standards that ensure food imports meet the same high values of animal welfare and environmental protection as those which British farmers are expected to meet? 

“Which party will be the first to set a target for food production with a statutory underpinning? Because there is currently an imbalance between environment and food production in government policy. We must see changes this year to redress this before many more farms just simply disappear.” 

SEE ALSO : Rishi Sunak announces next steps for farming at NFU Conference

End of an era

As Mrs Batters will be stepping down as the NFU president after the conference, she took this chance to summarise her years as the head of the organisation during the conference. She said: “There has been no playbook for my time leading the NFU. Each year has brought challenges that we haven’t faced before. 

“In 2014, when I was elected deputy president, the UK was a full member of the European Union. I became president in 2018, and we immediately went to the cliff edge, not once but three times, with the prospect of a catastrophic no deal Brexit. 

Jamie Oliver in a colourful kitchen
‘…we brought together an unprecedented coalition of farming organisations, environmental NGO’s, animal welfare experts, consumer groups, and chefs headed up by Jamie Oliver.’

“My second term started in 2020. Within a month, Covid-19 had struck. We were in lockdown and leading the NFU from our farms. Our staff were all working from home, and a combination of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Trump were committed to concluding a US UK free trade agreement by August. 

“And let’s not forget that Johnson government was legislating on raising standards of animal welfare and environmental protection here at home. But that same government was only too happy to import food that would be illegal to produce here. And it was a morally bankrupt position. 

“We knew time was not on our side, and we brought together an unprecedented coalition of farming organisations, environmental NGO’s, animal welfare experts, consumer groups, and chefs headed up by Jamie Oliver. It was one of the most successful campaigns of modern times and a testament to the convening power and influence of the NFU.” 

‘Please don’t politicise this hideous disease’

Speaking to more than 1,500 farming, political and stakeholder delegates, Mrs Batters also raised the subject of farmers mental health, which has been one of the NFU’s priorities over the years.  

She added: “When we talk about mental health challenges, there is often nothing greater than the devastation of a positive TB test. The NFU will leave no stone unturned to ensure future governments continue to work with us on eradicating bovine TB. 

“It is a disease that continues to wreck lives and livelihoods across England and Wales. It doesn’t respect borders. Last year alone, 29,975 cattle were slaughtered. My message to all politicians is this. Please don’t politicise this hideous disease.” 

We will keep you up to date with what is happening during the annual NFU Conference over the two days. 

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