Liz Truss has pledged to “unleash British food and farming” in order to improve the nation’s food security.
The Tory leadership hopeful said she would “remove onerous EU regulations and red tape” if she becomes prime minister, without outlining in detail which laws she would abolish.
She also promised to tackle the labour shortages in farming, largely caused by post-Brexit freedom of movement restrictions, with a short-term expansion to the seasonal worker scheme.
The programme, first launched in 2019, allows 40,000 overseas workers to enter the UK for seasonal roles in the horticulture and poultry sectors.
A recent government report warned that labour shortages “caused by Brexit and accentuated by the pandemic” were badly affecting the food and farming sector, often forcing farmers to leave fruit rotting in the fields and cull healthy pigs.
Ms Truss said she would also work to address longer-term skills shortages and hurdles to the adoption of labour-saving technologies. The former environment secretary vowed to replace EU law that restricts the development of farming infrastructure and technology, including agricultural drone use and precision-breeding technologies.
Ms Truss, who is due to meet farmers on a campaign stop in the south-west of England, said: “The pandemic and cost of living crisis have shown it is more vital than ever for us to ensure we have a high-quality and affordable supply of British food.
“As a former Defra [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] secretary of state, I understand the challenges faced by farmers, and they can trust me to deliver the changes they need.
“I will cut the red tape that is holding them back and hitting them in their pocket.”
Meurig Raymond, former president of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “I share her vision of a competitive, profitable and sustainable farming sector underpinned by investment in the latest technology and innovation, and a proportionate and flexible approach to regulation.”
A video of Ms Truss during her time as environment secretary went viral when she gave an enthusiastic speech about opening pork markets during the 2014 Tory Party conference.
Ms Truss gained further momentum in the race for No 10 last week with endorsements from Ben Wallace, Brandon Lewis and former leadership hopeful Tom Tugendhat.
Mr Tugendhat wrote that Ms Truss was the only candidate ready to become prime minister and unite the party. “These debates have shown a different side of both candidates. Only one has convinced me she’s ready… I’m backing Liz,” he wrote.
He added: “Liz’s plan for the economy is founded on true Conservative principles of low tax, a lean state and bold supply-side reform.”
Rishi Sunak has acknowledged he is “playing catch-up” to Liz Truss as he seemingly claimed underdog status in the Tory leadership race.
Ms Truss played down claims she has a clear lead over Mr Sunak, insisting it was a “very, very close race,” while trumpeting her “support from right across all parts of the Conservative Party”.