"We don't need to worry about the lack of seasonal workers from abroad after Brexit," said Michael Gove at Hay today, "because we will use smart technology instead". The Defra Secretary said he believed that the appliance of science could make farming more attractive to young people and those keen to set up new businesses. He was later asked by an audience member if he had considered how farmers might be able to afford the machines he anticipated.
He said he wanted to reverse the widescale closure of small abattoirs, from 2000 in 1971 to only 247 today (the reason being the legislation that a vet had to be present at each centre, which many could not afford). Farmers and slaughterhouse owners have complained about the decline for many years, because a long journey for the animals causes unnecessary stress and affects the quality of the meat. Again, science would come to the rescue, Gove said. "If there is CCTV installed, there is no need for a veterinary presence."
He would not be drawn on whether the proliferation of factory farming in the form of large broiler units was detrimental to the environment, to human and to animal health, saying it "reflected the switch from red to white meat as a source of protein".
Challenged by Rosie Boycott, London's former Food Tsar, about vegetable farmers going out of business because only 8.7 per cent of the retail price goes back to the producer, and because only 54% of our vegetables are British grown, he said he would encourage more direct sales, cutting out the middle man, so that growers recouped a greater percentage.
"The French appreciate terroir and provenance. In the UK we should put more value on high quality food we produce. We must reward our farmers more." In another nod to the French, he echoed President Macron's statement on his recent visit to the States, "There is no Planet B".
In the lively session Gove was asked if he would allow Liam Fox to lower import rules on food from the U.S., opening the door to chlorinated chicken and GM food. He retorted "Over my dead body".