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Former Farming Minister Lord Rooker discusses agriculture's prospects post-Brexit

Former Farming Minister, and Food Standards Agency chairman, Lord Rooker, reflects on his time in Government, food safety and agriculture’s prospects post-Brexit.

 

Hayley Campbell-Gibbons reports.

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Former Farming Minister Lord Rooker discusses agriculture's prospects post-Brexit

Lord Rooker was elected Labour MP for the north Birmingham constituency of Perry Barr in 1974 – a seat he held for 23 years.

 

He served as Minister in six Government departments between 1997 and 2013, including two appointments as Minister for Agriculture – first for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and later Defra.

 

He signed the order to create AHDB in 2008 and was appointed chairman of the Food Standards Agency in 2009. He is a lifetime peer in the House of Lords and is still very much focused on scrutinising the business of Government.

 

Memory

 

As he describes it, ‘bringing some corporate memory back to the job of monitoring Government’.

 

In his role on the EU Exit sub-committee, Lord Rooker is forensic in questioning the Government’s handling of Brexit, food legislation and biosecurity.

 

He said: “An unplanned, disorderly Brexit could have a big impact on UK animal and plant health.

 

“It is all very well Ministers saying we will not diminish standards in future trade deals, but we need to look beyond the headlines of hormone-treated beef and chlorine-washed chicken and think about risk assessment and management more broadly.”

 

There are currently 47 pests and diseases in Europe, which pose a threat to the UK’s economy, food safety and ecology.


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Former Farming Minister, and Food Standards Agency chairman, Lord Rooker, reflects on his time in Government, food safety and agriculture’s prospects post-Brexit.

 

Hayley Campbell-Gibbons reports. Post-Brexit, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) loses its membership of The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and its seat on the EU standing committee. This is something that concerns him greatly.

 

“EFSA issues 3,000 notices a year on biosecurity and animal health. It is fundamental we remain part of that system,” said Lord Rooker.

 

Politicians are yet to grant the FSA the new powers it needs to make risk management decisions in place of the European Commission.

 

Without them, all decisions will have to go through the Minister for Health. In Lord Rooker’s view this will compromise the FSA, as the rationale for its creation was to depoliticise food safety.

 

Trust

 

He added: “This is a blatant land-grab opportunity by Government, which wants to get its fingers back into the food safety pie. Consumers trust the FSA to tell them the truth, more than elected politicians.”

 

Reflecting on his time as the Agriculture Minister, Lord Rooker looks to farming’s future.

 

“People think I am an expert because of the job I did. I am not, but I am optimistic for agriculture’s future, providing a more youthful generation comes through to lead from the front.

 

“We need to be focused on using technology and growing as much food as possible. That includes genetically modified food. We have to accept the economics of it, too.

 

“There is no farming system in the world that does not get support in one way or another. Farmers do need to be prepared to work together and take more control of the supply chain though; we do not want the retailers calling all the shots.

 

“Soft fruit is a successful example of collaboration, and Arla making UK dairy farmers part of the co-op is a really positive move since I was in post.”

 

Against a boisterous political backdrop, what does Lord Rooker think about Labour’s position and prospects?

 

He added: “That depends on which party you are referring to. The one I think I still belong to, or the one [Jeremy] Corbyn has created?

 

“Anti-Semitism has been dealt with appallingly, and Labour’s dancing around on Brexit is preposterous. That is not the party I am in.

 

“The Labour Party does not have a chance while Jeremy Corbyn is leader. The A-listers in the party are on the back benches.

 

Lord Rooker’s stance on Brexit is clear.

 

“The Lords would stop Brexit if it could,” he added.

 

“When the Withdrawal Bill comes to the Lords we will be ready. We will want an amendment that gives the public a say with a second referendum.

 

“My bet is we will not leave.”

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