Defra Secretary Therese Coffey made an ill-tempered appearance before MPs this week, telling one Efra Committee member to ‘grow up’ before dismissing his questions on food poverty as ‘pathetic’.
The session, which had been tabled to discuss supply chain issues, food security, waste and avian flu, began in a confrontational manner with committee chair Sir Robert Goodwill asking the Secretary of State for her thoughts on her performance at the recent NFU Conference.
He reminded her that it had been described by Farmers Weekly as ‘a car crash’. In response Dr Coffey clapped back that: “I do not know whether that is the same journalist who has voted for the Liberal Democrats for the past 10 years and has since joined the Labour Party... I do not pretend I read the editorial of that, I am into information and facts.”
She was then asked about her comments at conference denying that there was ‘market failure’ within the egg industry with Sir Robert pointing out that the flock had now been reduced to below 40 million and reminding her of the shortages which took place late last year.
Dr Coffey dismissed his concerns and said shortages were down to unusual activity in the supply chain in which the wholesale sector had bought up stocks from supermarkets. She said she would not be answering the NFU’s call to launch an investigation into ‘exceptional market conditions’ which is available to her under the Agriculture Act 2020.
The matter, she said was down to: "A technical element of interpretation of a piece of statute."
Sir Robert then followed up by asking the Secretary of State why her department was witnessing such a high volume of vacancies and whether low morale was affecting staff turnover. He also questioned whether this would impact the delivery of ELMs and whether it would come in ‘on time and within budget’.
In response, Dr Coffey said: “I am not aware of any reports. I do not know where you have got that from.”
The debate remained heated as MPs asked questions about the supply chain and supermarket fixed pricing schemes. Dr Coffey re-emphasised her department’s commitment to supporting farmers, especially growers who were currently under pressure.
When it was suggested that the fixed price nature of the UK supply chain was to blame, Dr Coffey insisted it was not her department’s job to tell supermarkets what to charge. She said competition between supermarkets ensured that food remained competitively priced for consumers.
However, the debate grew more heated over Swansea West MP’s Geraint Davies question on food poverty and maintaining the supply of healthy food across the population. Dr Coffey said she had already addressed the Government’s commitment to food security and told Mr Davies that health and nutrition was a matter for the devolved assemblies and he should take the matter up in Cardiff.
When she was pushed on the subject, she told Mr Davies: “She said that is pathetic Geraint. You are pathetic. Grow up.”