And she faced a strong line of questioning from NFU President Minette Batters and NFU members in the audience.
“We made a commitment to parliament to report on the state of our nation’s food security at least once every three years,” she said.
“Currently we have a self-sufficiency level at just under two thirds, providing us with amazing food from farm to fork.
“We want to maintain at least that, if not consider higher – something we will be discussing at the forthcoming Food Security Summit later this year, just as the Prime Minister assured you,” she told NFU President Minette Batters.
Fairness for farmers and growers
Dr Coffey’s comments came after the NFU hosted an emergency Fairness for Farmers and Growers press conference in December.
Mrs Batters outlined five of the NFU's urgent asks at the event, which was held at the NFU‘s London office in Westminster.
Among them was that British food and farming needs to be a political priority, a point that Minette pressed home in a meeting with the Prime Minister at No 10 at the end of 2022. Delivery of promises made to establish a new food security target, including a statutory duty to monitor and report on domestic food production levels annually, and to hold a UK-wide annual food security summit remain at the heart of the NFU asks on food security.
A new target should also be introduced for public sector organisations to buy 50% of their food locally.
Mrs Batters pressed Dr Coffey on these points after her political address, pointing to a commitment made by Sir Keir Starmer on the opening day of Conference that the next Labour government will commit to that 50% figure for public procurement.
“We’ve said in our manifesto commitment that we wanted to keep that level of food production, that’s absolutely my intention to do so,” the Secretary of State said.
“I won’t be supporting reintroduction of species like lynx or wolves. We just don’t need to and we won’t do.”
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs The Rt Hon Thérèse Coffey MP
She added: “There’s no doubt through aspects of our procurement and our food strategy, we’re very clear we want people to buy the best that’s on offer.”
When asked by Mrs Batters if that’s British, Dr Coffey said “indeed” but cautioned we do have a seasonal industry, adding there is some food we cannot produce.
“But there is this element that we want to continue to have a sustainable British farming industry for sure,” she added.
Elsewhere, the Secretary of State said her department will “ensure that rural is a core component of the government’s levelling up mission” and discussed species reintroduction.
While Dr Coffey said there has been some successful translocations and reintroduction of species, she added: “I don’t want farmers to constantly have to worry about these issues.
“We have got plenty to do with the habitats that need improving and expanding. Yes, we do want more breeding sites for our birds.
"And that is why I won’t be supporting reintroduction of species like lynx or wolves. We just don’t need to and we won’t do.”
The Secretary of State also answered a series of questions from members, with topics ranging from transparency around how the budget release from the Basic Payment Scheme has been returned to farmers, upland farming, and markets.
On the former, she said while the transition is still in the early stages, “the money is there, it is available, and people can apply for it”. The aim, she noted, is to make it easier so everyone can participate in one way or another.
She added: “It’s not all about government funding. There are plenty of you that want to get that 8% return on using your land for solar farms and similar and we want to see more diversification. It’s why we’ve been working with other aspects of government departments to try and see what more we can do to make it easier to have that diversification and those are activities we’re still working on.”
Meet the speakers from this session
Diversification includes the conversion of a 17th century tithe barn into a wedding and corporate events venue, and horse liveries. Minette co-founded the campaigning initiatives 'Ladies in Beef' and the 'Great British Beef Week'.
Campaigning on behalf of NFU members about the importance of British food and farming has been a key driver for Minette throughout her time at the NFU. In 2020 she led one of the most successful petitions ever, bringing together a coalition of chefs, including Jamie Oliver, farmers, environmentalists, consumer groups and animal welfare experts – resulting in over one million people signing the NFU food standards petition. She has also regularly engaged with different media genres including appearances on Desert Island Discs, Question Time, and Any Questions.
She has been an NFU member from grassroots through to County Chair; she served as Wiltshire’s Council delegate and also as Regional Board Chair for the South West. Minette has also been a member of NFU Governance Board and served as NFU Deputy President for four years from 2014 to 2018, before being elected as president in February 2018. Minette is also an ambassador of Farm Africa and was made a Deputy Lieutenant to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 2021.
- Trade and standards
- EU and international relations
- Taxation and fiscal policy
- Science and research and development
- Food supply chain (fair dealing, Markets and Authorities, competition, regulation)
- Food service
- Levelling up
The Rt Hon Dr Thérèse Coffey MP
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
She was previously Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and Deputy Prime Minister, between 6 September 2022 and 25 October 2022.
She was Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions between 8 September 2019 and 6 September 2022.
She was Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs between 25 July 2019 and 8 September 2019.
She was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from 17 July 2016 to 25 July 2019. She was elected the Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal in May 2010.