Shadow minister for agriculture James Paice supports food security task force and research funding shift

Shadow minister for agriculture James Paice MP has welcomed the introduction of the food security task force by the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn -- and the shift of funding for R&D to the Technology Strategy Board (TSB).

However, he stopped short of making any commitment to fund a push on consumption of UK fruit and vegetables unless savings could be made elsewhere.

Paice said: "Clearly we welcome Benn's very belated conversion to the recognition that British food production is important." He added that the task force "may well come up with some very useful stuff".

But he stressed: "We are not talking about extra spending on anything unless someone can identify what we are going to cut to pay for the new thing."

Paice said the TSB was a good idea "in principal" but maintained that its financing had "to be sorted out much more clearly".

Still on the subject of R&D, he echoed previous Conservative Party concerns over Wellesbourne and acknowledged the problems created by the abolition of HortLINK - as well as the crisis over match funding for levy monies.

He said: "At the moment we are trying to map out where all the (R&D) money comes from and where it is being spent. We have got this unbelievable mess that Defra has made by abolishing all the link programmes and shifting them into the TSB, only to find that levy board money is considered state aid and it hasn't got EU approval (to use it for match funding)."

He confirmed that the party was investigating Defra quangos including the Forestry Commission, Natural England and the Environment Agency as part of its drive for savings, while the agricultural wages board would be abolished if the Tories got into power.

On climate change, Paice said he was in favour of increasing canopy cover but the party would not be setting any targets. "Adaptation across the whole climate change agenda has to be very, very important. What I can't say here is precisely how that would happen in an age of austerity."

Finally, he rejected the idea of a horticulture minister while pledging to cut back on regulation. "I think that at the end of the day it has to be recognised that it (horticulture) is part and parcel of land use. The last thing we need to be doing is becoming more interventionist with horticulture."

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