New environment ministry consults public on aims and objectives

The revamped environment ministry, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) wants the public to help decide what direction its policy emphasis should take and has denied that agriculture and rural Britain is taking a backseat.

DEFRA wants comments on its list of draft aims and objectives which it has drawn up for public consultation and whether the proposals should form the basis of long, medium or short term policy, but has met with stinging condemnation from political opponents and countryside groups which see the document as presenting a list of priorities in descending order of importance. The seven objectives set out in the following order are:

  • to protect and improve the environment and conserve and enhance biodiversity, and to integrate these with other policies across Government and internationally;
  • to enhance opportunity and tackle social exclusion in the countryside by leading the development of a dynamic, inclusive and sustainable economy in rural areas;
  • to promote a sustainable, competitive food supply chain for consumers;
  • to improve enjoyment of the countryside for all and to maintain strong rural communities by ensuring fair access to opportunities and services;
  • to promote sustainable, modern and adaptable farming through domestic and international actions and further Common Agricultural Policy reform;
  • to promote more sustainable management and natural resources in the UK and internationally; and
  • to protect public health in relation to food and animal diseases and ensure high standards of animal health and welfare.

“I want to know what our staff, those who work in the agencies and other bodies that we sponsor and others outside of Government think,” commented DEFRA’s head, Margaret Beckett. “Are these our priorities? It will be very important that our aim and objectives are meaningful to a wide range of people and interests. It will also be important that we link our business and the policies we pursue to these objectives. I am keen to know how we might best do this.”

In The Daily Telegraph however, the consultation was criticised for only listing sustainable farming fifth. “The first priority should be thriving economies and communities in rural areas,” Nick Way of the Country Land and Business Association told the newspaper. “There can be no sustainable development or environmental conservation without them.” Conservative environment spokesman, Damian Green, commented that “with every week that passes, it is clear the Government does not regard farming as important for the future of rural Britain”. “There is nothing about country sports and nothing about the way of life in the country,” commented the Countryside Alliance.

However a DEFRA spokesperson told edie that all the priorities were high level objectives and that the purpose of it was precisely to ask if these should be the top seven priorities. “The objectives are not mutually exclusive and if it seems that the farming sector is not in the top three, this is not the case as all are major priorities,” she said.

Comments on the document should be sent by 28 September to [email protected].

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