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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

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Carlisle MP to investigate food industry

A Cumbrian MP is to play a major role in an investigation throwing fresh focus on the food industry.

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John Stevenson: ‘Cost would be marginal’

Carlisle’s John Stevenson has been appointed to a commission looking at how the industry itself is fed and its knock-on effect for things such as employment.

It’s a job that could bring with it important ramifications for his own constituency, where thousands of jobs are linked to the food and drink sector.

And with the business worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the Cumbrian economy every year, the Conservative is not underestimating its importance – and the influence the county could have on shaping its future and that of the supply chain.

The Sustainable Food Supply Chain Commission is probing the challenges facing food firms in ensuring their supply chains are sustainable.

Its members will be briefed by experts before drawing up a report looking at planned policy developments and how the industry can meet those challenges.

They started gathering evidence this week just days after Environment Secretary Owen Paterson called on more Britons to buy food reared or grown in this country to support firms struggling for survival.

It’s a message also likely to be aimed at the food industry – that shopping local has value in a landscape of growing vigilance over where consumers’ food comes from, a year on from the horse meat contamination scandal.

Mr Stevenson said: “This commission is looking at a really important issue. It will cover everything from supply chain risks to challenges in the economy and looking at what solutions to these can be achieved.”

Among the issues the commission, which involves politicians, the Food Ethics Council and University of Warwick, will investigate is employment conditions in the often low-paid food industry, how profits are split along the supply chain and regulations governing the sector.

Cumbria is impacted in different spheres at the supply and processing end of the business.

The county’s farming industry plays a key role nationally in basic food supplies as well as in increasing niche markets for locally-reared produce. At the other end, it is a major employer with the likes of the McVitie’s, Cavaghan & Gray and Nestle factories in Carlisle and Dalston.

Mr Stevenson, chairman of an all-party food and drink group at Westminster, added:“The food and drink industry is crucial to the Cumbrian economy.

“We have a presence right through the supply chain – from field to fork. I’m pleased to be part of this commission.”

Work to promote Cumbria’s food industry was boosted this week after Lakeland Herdwick lamb was put on the menu at Westminster this week.

It was part of a showcase of the best of British produce and comes as a major drive on marketing the meat continues to help boost the fortunes of the farmers who rear the animals who make it.

“The quality is outstanding,” said Mr Stevenson. “Farming is in my blood, but the financial rewards are not good. Upland farming must be recognised for the work it does in sustaining the landscape and delivering excellent produce.”

A string of Cumbrian food producers have backed the environment secretary’s calls for shoppers and businesses to use British produce.

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