Victoria Prentis on her previous role of Minister of State DEFRA
Conservative MP for Banbury, Victoria Prentis grew up on a farm in West Northamptonshire and has recently been appointed Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions. She was previously Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Our co-founder Janie Ash, interviewed her just before her new appointment.
Our community of women are seriously focused on sustainability, how can we feed the world without it costing the earth?
We are very lucky here in the UK. We have a high degree of both food security and self-sufficiency.
Food is always top of my agenda, personally and politically. I do think, all the time, about where our next meal is coming from. Food is what we produce as farmers, and thriving food businesses are what we all aim for.
Food production and environmental sustainability must go hand in hand. We are maintaining our farm budget and rolling out new domestic schemes in England. The aim is that the steps we will take to encourage a more sustainable model of agriculture will also help improve the resilience and profitability of farm businesses.
The National Food Strategy contains urgent recommendations for the UK, do you think women in the food industry can play a part in educating and being part of the conversation to decide what kind of trading nation we want to be?
Women are already instrumental when it comes to our food system and the kind of trading nation that we want to be. At home, I am very much on a mission to ensure that we are encouraging people to Buy British. With our Food White Paper we have the opportunity to set out government thinking on changes we can make to the food system to make sure high-quality, nutritious and sustainable food is widely available. There are some challenging issues to grapple with – including public procurement, and how labelling should reflect animal welfare and environmental issues but we can’t just put these in the too difficult box. We need to address them.
There are so many women that are playing their part, and I am proud to work alongside them – NFU President Minette Batters, FDF Chief Executive Karen Betts, my many female ministerial colleague. The list goes on – and I hope that we can continue to encourage women to come forward and be part of the conversation.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Managing the work/ family balance!
Have you ever experienced any discrimination because you’re a woman?
Well I remember at the start of my career the army legal service was not very open to my application. But since then not really.
How do we tackle gender inequality in the food industry?
I think we have done a great deal to tackle gender inequality. Just last week, I attended a reception during which I met various young women who had come through the McDonald’s Progressive Young Farmers Programme. It was fascinating to hear about their individual journeys, and to hear about the positions that they now hold in various parts of the food supply chain. More and more women are now coming into the industry, and we will shortly announce details of our new entrants scheme.
Of course, women have always played an important role – but often it has been unseen and undervalued. Whether it’s the ‘farmers wife’ or those that rallied to keep food on the table during the war, they have done a huge amount to keep our nation fed. I am pleased that the role of women in food is becoming increasingly recognised, and I will certainly continue to shout about it.
What good do you think Women in the Food Industry can do?
Women have a huge role to play in the food industry, and I am particularly looking forward to getting out and about at the agricultural shows this year – where I know that many of the farmers and business leaders I meet will be female. If there is one thing that I hope all of us women in the industry can do, it’s to encourage and help other women to take up roles in the sector.
What would you tell your younger self?
Don’t be frightened to try things. No one notices if you don’t manage.
What woman (living or dead) do you most admire?
The Queen. Obviously.
If you were eating your last meal what would it be?
Longhorn beef and blackberry and apple crumble.