Environment minister makes first new announcements since election

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett has made her first new policy announcements since June’s election and has strongly justified the creation of the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Speaking to the Green Alliance at London’s Royal Horticultural Halls on 24 October, Beckett strongly defended the creation of DEFRA in June (see related story). “Some suggested we had simply been rebranded, like a baked bean manufacturer who sticks a brighter label on his tins, but does nothing to improve the quality and taste of the contents,” she said, adding that she was aware that “too often in the past the interests of former MAFF and former DETR have been seen to be not just different but opposite”. “I am determined that DEFRA should be more than the sum of its parts,” the Minister said, providing an example of how she intends the different departments to work together in symbiosis. DEFRA is working as a united department, she said, to produce a consultation paper on reducing ammonia emissions in partnership with the agriculture industry, which will be published next Spring. Ammonia, arising largely from livestock farming, Beckett admitted, is the pollutant “which to date we have done least to tackle”.

Sticking in the arena of sustainable farming, the Minister also announced that once the newly-created Commission on the Future of Farming and Food (see related story) has reported, DEFRA will produce a strategy setting out the future direction of organic farming, looking at how producers “can not only consolidate the gains that have been made but match their European counterparts”. Reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was also high on the agenda she said, with consultations with the private sector and NGOs over the next 18 months helping to turn the “aspiration of CAP reform into reality”.

As well as confirming that the Government has decided to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in time for next autumn’s World Summit on Sustainable Development (also see this week’s ‘Europe’ section), Beckett also announced “a ground-breaking initiative to use state-of-the-art micro-CHP units in 6,000 homes”. “At one and the same time this will help us meet our climate change and CHP targets, give a boost to new green technologies and help in our strategy to tackle fuel poverty,” she said. A draft CHP strategy to help ensure that the UK doubles its use will also soon be published.

Beckett also stressed the need for the Government to lead by example and announced the creation of a new cross-Government group to look at how Government procurement can be used to deliver sustainable development.

The Minister also announced that a much-needed Waste Summit will be held in mid-November “to see if we can agree some shared priorities with our stakeholders”. She promised that it “will not be an agreeable day airing our individual or mutual prejudices, but the start of a process we need to pursue together”.

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