The independence of the new Trade and Agriculture Commission has been questioned as Farmers Guardian revealed its press operation will be carried out by officials at the Department for International Trade (DIT).
The group’s chairman, ex-Food Standards Agency boss and Tesco group director Tim Smith, has already been heavily criticised just days into the job after an op-ed in his name was published in The Telegraph, calling for an end to ‘alarmism’ in the debate over food standards.
The article was shared on DIT’s social media channels.
Former @Tesco executive Tim Smith calls for an end to "alarmism" over chlorinated chicken and says trade policy should be "informed by evidence, and expert opinion".— Department for International Trade (@tradegovuk)
Read the new chairman of the Trade and Agriculture Commission in the @Telegraph: t.co/RAQWjRK52H
Former @Tesco executive Tim Smith calls for an end to "alarmism" over chlorinated chicken and says trade policy should be "informed by evidence, and expert opinion".— Department for International Trade (@tradegovuk) July 12, 2020
Read the new chairman of the Trade and Agriculture Commission in the @Telegraph: https://t.co/RAQWjRK52H
Asked by Farmers Guardian whether the commission would have its own press operation in future to ensure independence, a department spokesman said: “It is not a quango or a regulator. It will be strictly time-limited and its recommendations will be advisory only, meaning it does not require a press operation function.
“DIT supports members of the commission if they wish to engage in media.”
Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) chief executive George Dunn warned DIT was ‘not instilling the farming community with any confidence that the commission will be given the necessary autonomy to produce clear and worthwhile recommendations’.
“The misjudged remarks of the chairman reported in the national press, the lack of an independent public voice for the commission and the repetition of the mantra that the conclusions of the commission will be advisory only suggest this will be an empty exercise,” he said.
“However, there are some good representatives from the farming community on the commission and they will need to work hard to ensure their voices are heard over the attempts to stifle proper debate.
“They must also be prepared to walk away from the commission if it continues to be used by the DIT as a box ticking exercise.”