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Jayawardena has vowed to ‘back British farmers’ and focus on growing the rural economy

After the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, everything we think of as ‘business as usual’ was put on hold. Now, with our period of national mourning over, the focus of the public and press will return to government, and the challenges faced by Liz Truss and her Cabinet.

Spare a thought for that new Cabinet, who have had the first few weeks of their new roles so interrupted. Now scrutiny will start to ramp up. While Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng will be dominating headlines, for those of us who run food and drink businesses, our eyes will be on new secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs: Ranil Jayawardena.

He needs to hit the ground running. He’s taking office at a time when the food and drink industry and its customers are facing a triple whammy of issues: food security, cost of living, and growing environmental concerns. The UK is coming out of an extensive drought that could have been even worse; businesses and personal budgets are stretched thin; and amidst a global energy shock, we need to keep our industry on a pathway to net zero.

Reacting to his appointment, Jayawardena vowed to ‘back British farmers’ and focus on growing the rural economy.

But he’s an interesting pick, with very little experience in the field (literally), and a track record of voting against climate measures. A lot of businesses need to him to learn fast and get the big calls right.

One thing Jayawardena can do straight away is tackle the food waste crisis in the UK, which sees a third of fruit & veg grown on farms never eaten. Food waste plays its part in all three of Defra’s most pressing challenges: it creates lost revenue for farmers, undermines food supplies, and creates needless emissions.

The minister’s department needs to work closely with retailers, supermarkets and farmers to ensure more food gets from the soil to our plates. Mandating that supermarkets do away with stringent size and shape requirements on produce would help.

The late Queen showed that monarchs tend to outlast ministers. But it will be this minister’s decisions that set the direction of travel for the food and drink industry in the years to come.