Fears that continued spending cuts after the election could see Defra abolished as a government department in its own right have been downplayed by the Conservatives.
Concerns were raised when agriculture was included in a sub-section of the Tory election manifesto, rather than having its own section, leaving some commentators to wonder if food and agricultural policy could fall under the remit of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Defra secretary Liz Truss, who is seeking re-election as Conservative MP for south-west Norfolk, told Farmers Weekly, “What is important about our manifesto is that we’ve put agriculture at the heart of the economy and jobs section. We firmly believe that food and farming has huge potential. It is a very important part of our economy and worth £100bn and accounts for one in eight jobs. There will always be a strong part of the UK government that looks after farming.”
She added that the work that Defra does is vital, but many farmers and growers still have concerns after Labour’s Margaret Beckett merged the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) with parts of the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Home Office in June 2001 following the food and mouth crisis.