It's customary, at this time, for media soothsayers to rub their crystal balls and sound off about the shape of things to come. Fuelled by liberal amounts of seasonal Tesco sherry, pompous business scribes proclaim that we are "standing on the threshold of momentous times", or similar such trite utterances. And, the statements are often accompanied by extraordinary predictions which the pundits privately hope their readers will soon forget ­ unless, by chance, they turn out to be true. Yet, if we were to sum up the next 12 months, that clichéd "on the threshold" line would be entirely appropriate. For if the report from the Commission into the Future of Farming and Food is as radical as promised, the UK food sector is set for its biggest shake-up ever. But, at least all players can gain solace from one phenomenon of 2001. New Labour's bouncing new baby, DEFRA, which replaced the creaky MAFF after the election, has begun to display the understanding and foresight that we didn't always enjoy from its predecessor until, belatedly, Nick Brown arrived. There were fears among many that the relatively unknown new food and farming minister, Lord Whitty, would not show the same consideration of the real issues that we saw from the much maligned and often misunderstood Brown. They needn't have worried. It may still be early days, but "the Larry Whitty way" is coming as a pleasant surprise, even if he does dash from engagement to engagement like a man possessed. However, the big challenge for Blair and all his ministries comes when the Commission's dossier hits their desks. This is no time for gimmicky photo sessions. Sir Don Curry promises the report will not be bland. So, in its response, the government must abandon the hollow soundbites which have coloured so many of its utterances. It must spur action encouraging an efficient chain in which all participants can prosper. Anything less and the Commission's work will have been futile. Oh yes, and a Merry Christmas! Clive Beddall, Editor {{OPINION }}