Northern Foods chairman Lord Haskins ruffled feathers at a public debate on food and farming by suggesting food safety issues preoccupying the audience were not keeping the mass of the population awake at night. Haskins said: "Food safety is a middle class ethical argument. How big is that noisy evangelical lobby really?" Haskins sat on a panel alongside Environment Agency ceo Baroness Young, Safeway director of communications Kevin Hawkins, restaurateur Prue Leith, NFU president Ben Gill and FSA chairman Sir John Krebs in a debate chaired by Jeremy Paxman and hosted by the Food Standards Agency. Although the event was pitched as "wide ranging debate on the future of food and farming" the discussion focussed on animal welfare and food safety. Sir John Krebs said it was important to retain a sense of perspective about food safety issues. The paradox was that while food safety was an issue of great public concern, food was "probably safer, more varied and more affordable than it has ever been", said Krebs. He also challenged the "popular misconception" that there was a direct link between food safety and particular production methods such as intensive farming. What mattered, said Sir John, were the hygiene standards and the controls in place to police those systems. Likewise, the controversial practice of feeding animal proteins to farm animals is "not a modern phenomenon and not a direct result of intensive farming", he added. Hawkins defended the supermarkets from accusations of profiteering and "selling cheap junk" while Gill faced abuse from pressure groups about the "cruelty" of live animal exports and the NFU's opposition to vaccination to tackle foot and mouth. Hawkins said the "only chance" UK farmers would have of competing in world markets as CAP was phased out was to organise into co-ops or move into niche production areas such as organic farming. {{NEWS }}