Skip to main content

Food: Rural Areas

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN HL15251, tabled on 11 April 2019

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the importance of the food and drink industry to the rural economy; and what steps they intend to take to ensure that food safety standards are maintained.

Answered on

29 April 2019

The food and drink industry, and the wider agri-food sector, forms an integral part of the rural economy whether in primary production, manufacturing, retail, or hospitality. The Government recognises its importance and provides a range of support for the industry and the rural economy as a whole.

The UK has world leading standards of food safety and quality, backed by a rigorous legislative framework. We will maintain these high standards once the UK leaves the EU.

Rural Economy and Food and Drink

Various figures demonstrate the importance of the food and drink industry to the rural economy. The industry employed 3 million people in 2017 in England, over 475,000 (16%) of whom lived in rural areas. 31% of all business units that produce food products or beverages are in rural areas. Food and drink manufacturing in rural areas in England (excluding animal feed and pet food) had a turnover of £11 billion in 2017. In 2016 an estimated 2% of the gross value added of predominantly rural areas came from farming, forestry and fishing.

The Government provides a range of support for the rural economy. We are investing over £500 million in rural businesses and communities through the socioeconomic schemes within the Rural Development Programme for England. This includes over £250 million for rural business growth and broadband infrastructure through the Growth Programme; £150 million for locally identified business and community priorities through LEADER; and £140 million for improving farm performance through Countryside Productivity. Rural communities can also receive support through Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

The Government also provides support for the agri-food sector. Defra’s work on the Industrial Strategy includes the Food and Drink Sector Council, the Food and Drink Sector Deal (currently in negotiations) and the Food and Drink LEP Network. The Government promotes increasing agricultural productivity through a range of programmes including the Transforming Food Production Fund and the Agri-Tech Strategy. The Government will publish a National Food Strategy once we leave the EU.

Food Standards

When we leave the EU, we will maintain our current high standards. We will keep our existing UK legislation, and the EU Withdrawal Act will convert EU law into UK law as it applies at the moment of departure.

As noted above, the UK has world leading standards of food safety and quality, backed by a rigorous legislative framework. We will maintain these high standards once the UK leaves the EU.

We are working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care, the Food Standards Agency, the Department for Exiting the European Union and the devolved administrations to ensure that the UK’s world leading reputation for food safety and standards continues after we leave the EU.

Maintaining safety and public confidence in the food we all eat is a high priority for the Government. We are committed to upholding and strengthening our high standards. Future trade agreements must support the UK’s food safety, animal welfare, and environmental standards.

The Secretary of State has been clear on numerous occasions that we intend to maintain our standards when pursuing any trade deals.