Therese Coffey booed after denying “market failure” caused Britain’s egg shortages

Therese Coffey was booed by farmers on Wednesday after she said in her first appearance at the National Farmers’ Union conference as Environment Secretary that Britain’s egg shortages were not caused by “market failure”.

In a grumpy onstage exchange with NFU President Minette Batters, Coffey claimed she “doesn’t necessarily see a market failure in poultry” after egg farmers scaled back production due to rising input costs, resulting in empty supermarket shelves.

Batters, who had called for government action to support producers, countered: “We were down a billion eggs [produced] in 2022 [compared with 2021]’ and ‘we’ve lost business’. She later said she “took real offense at the Foreign Secretary’s denial.”

The exchange was part of a test visit to the NFU conference for Coffey, as farmers challenged her and Farm Secretary Mark Spencer over a range of issues related to Brexit and high inflation, highlighting disenchantment in rural constituencies with recent Conservative governments.

Farmers reserved a warmer welcome for Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer, who on Tuesday insisted farming was “in”. [his] DNA” and that Britain “must not lose sight of farming as a business”.

Matthew Blair, a cattle and sheep farmer in Cumbria, wrote on Twitter that he was “very impressed with how well [Starmer] spoken”.

The conference came as retailers warned fruit and vegetable shortages would last “for weeks” as bad weather in southern Europe and North Africa was exacerbated by a fall in off-peak domestic production due to rising energy costs.

Coffey further angered farmers by saying in reference to the shortages – which have so far prompted three supermarkets to ration fresh produce – that she “can’t control the weather in Spain”.

Marion Regan, managing director of fruit and arable farmer Hugh Lowe Farms in Kent, said at the event: “[Coffey] dismissed the empty shelves. . . So I don’t think she understands the challenges facing the horticultural sector. . . This is about the additional costs.”

Farmers have been pressured, including the phasing out of EU-style subsidies, new import controls into the bloc and skyrocketing prices for energy, feed, labor and fertilizer.

These have caused gaps on supermarket shelves over the past year, including egg shortages in late 2022 after farmers reduced their laying flocks due to cost increases. UK egg production fell 7.8 per cent to 869 million dozen in 2022 from a year earlier, official data says, and shortages are still being reported.

James Mottershead, a Shropshire poultry farmer and chairman of the NFU Poultry Committee, said it was “disheartening” that the industry’s pleas to the Government “continually fall on deaf ears”. He said ministers should “use the powers they have under the Farm Bill to address supply chain outages. . . and they should go to farms and see the problems”.

Egg shortages were followed by pressure on fruit and vegetables this week, with Asda, Aldi and Morrisons rationing purchases of items such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.

Batters called on ministers to provide more support for producers’ energy bills, but the government rejected their call for them to be included on the list of “energy-intensive” industries in need of additional support, saying it would “reduce costs for other bill payers, including households”. .

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is reviewing dairy and hog supply chains, where farmers have also come under pressure. Coffey informed the conference that these reviews would be completed soon.

She also received a rare round of applause when she said she does not support the reintroduction of top predators such as lynx and wolves, a project supported by reintroduction groups in different parts of the UK. Therese Coffey booed after denying “market failure” caused Britain’s egg shortages

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