Christmas

don’t like Christmas. I love it. After a year running around the country like a headless chicken (or turkey), with my family scattered across the world, there is nothing quite like having the Parish clan all back and under one roof in the West Country. It is a chance for me to tell my ‘terrible’ jokes and get away with it. It is the one time of the year that my children actually agree to come on long country walks with me. And it gives me an excuse to stoke up great big log fires to warm the cockles. As a farmer it is terrific too. I have come to realise that Christmas is an unashamed excuse for a luxurious and abundant British food festival. For once shoppers actually think about buying separate ingredients and cooking them. For a brief period of a few days the obsession with microwaves and ready meals seems to subside in the face of real, fresh, seasonal and nutritious ingredients that actually taste of something. Christmas is even a chance for you to eat your 5-a-day vegetable quota on a single plate (well, it is for me anyway!). And it is telling, isn’t it, that at Christmas time when shoppers head out looking for the very best food to treat the family, they invariably come back with locally sourced ingredients? That is because there is not a country in the world that can beat the British when it comes to growing meat and veg. Consumers care about where their food has come from, how it has been produced and how many air miles it has taken to get it to the shelves and choose British. Our livestock farmers have the highest welfare and environmental credentials bar none and our animals are reared to exemplary standards in fantastic countryside. So why would anybody go anywhere else for their turkey, gammon or beef joint? Brussels Sprouts, cabbages, leeks, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, red cabbage, Swede and turnips are all at their best at this time of the year too. So why would anybody tuck into broad beans and asparagus that have been flown in from Peru? Well, there are several reasons. But one of the biggest barriers to buying British is the diabolical labelling laws that allow supermarkets to mislead consumers. Take the turkey (although I could pick on any meat). One of our largest supermarkets was under fire last week for ‘hiding’ the origin of thousands of turkeys imported from Brazil this Christmas. Appallingly, labelling laws allow the supermarket, which has never imported turkeys before, to put the Brazilian stamp in small print on the back of their turkey. The problem is many consumers don’t look at the small print and would assume the bird was British, as normal. I appreciate consumers may want to save £6 or £7 by buying an imported turkey but I cannot understand why we cannot have clearer labels so consumers who don’t want an imported turkey can make an informed choice. That way consumers would be able to support the British industry if they wanted to. As it is turkey production has slumped from 49 million birds ten years ago to about 15 million today. Labelling laws are terrible elsewhere. Food packaging emblazoned with the Union Jack is allowed, by law, to be made with imported meat. Meanwhile food that has been processed in Britain but contains imported meat can also, by law, be labelled as British. However much you think you are buying British because of the labelling and the Union Jacks, the law will tell you otherwise. The Government has to step in and stop this. British consumers have a right to know exactly where their produce has been reared and we need a clear country of origin label on the front of all packaging so that the public can support our farmers. During a recent debate in the House of Commons Defra Ministers sought to blame Europe for misleading labelling laws. That is preposterous. You certainly wouldn’t hear the French say that sort of thing. I admire the French because they look after themselves and they look after their farmers. Unlike the British Government, they fight the European fight admirably and don’t take no for an answer. Only a fortnight ago, for example, our Government missed key discussions about the future of farming in France. The French Agriculture Minster, Monsieur Bruno Le Maire, was joined by 22 EU Member States to discuss how best to dish out the CAP budget worth almost £50 billion. British farmers will suffer from the Government’s absence and Ministers now have a mountain to climb to influence how the CAP will look post-2013. I remember in 2005 when Tony Blair was promised a shake-up of farm subsidies in return for giving up the hard-fought budget rebate, worth around £7 billion. The rebate has since slipped away and Britain's contribution to the EU budget has risen dramatically but we still have no sway in farming talks. The danger of being outmanoeuvred once again must demand a change in the Government’s tactics to fight our corner on labelling, on CAP, on everything. The Parish family is vast and we will do our bit to make sure every morsel on our plate on Christmas Day (everyday in fact) will be of West Country origin. But our job is not made easy by the present Government’s policy.