Ministers come and go, but the buying and selling of groceries goes on regardless. What significance do the changes in the Cabinet have for supermarkets, processors, farmers and the rest of the supply chain?

Isuppose that, as a member of the Meat and Livestock Commission, I should be duly outraged at the appointment of a vegetarian to the top job at Defra. Alas, I'm not. Some of the meat dishes I've encountered in restaurants and hotels over the years have made me wish, albeit fleetingly, that I was one too. Much more to the point is what Hilary Benn's intellectual prowess will bring to a department that seems to lack a sense of purpose and where staff morale is low.

Over the past two years, Defra's preoccupation with climate change has convinced several stakeholders it has lost interest in the supply chain.

This is no criticism of Jeff Rooker, the junior minister responsible for food and farming, who has been a breath of fresh air, but he's the exception to the prevailing ethos. One big food scare would quickly restore a sense of balance, but one would hope this particular catalyst won't be necessary.

Why should Mr Benn rethink Defra's priorities? Isn't the 'green agenda' the most important challenge facing the new government? No, I don't believe it is. The 60 million or so inhabitants of these islands still need to be fed and the food supply chain has to operate as efficiently as it can to ensure this happens.

But there are still some critical areas within the chain where, for structural reasons, the usual market disciplines do not work as they do elsewhere. These are sub-sectors such as red meat and dairy where producers and processors pay a levy to part-fund government support.

There is still a great deal of work to do in these parts of the chain to stimulate innovation, productivity growth and structural change. This won't happen automatically or by some hidden hand.

There is still an active role for government and industry initiatives to accelerate progress in the face of some very conservative, inward-looking cultures.

The initial flavour of the new Cabinet and the various changes to the structure and titles of several departments, involving words such as 'business', 'enterprise' and 'innovation' may suggest a stronger focus on wealth creation and economic growth.

The same mood music might also indicate a tougher line in Brussels in ­opposition to further burdensome regulation.

My view is that sooner or later the whole issue of GM will have to be reconsidered, hopefully in a non-hysterical atmosphere. Erecting more regulatory hurdles is the last thing we need.

Finally, I haven't seen any sign of a weakening in ministerial support for open, competitive markets, both in the UK and across the EU.

Without anticipating the outcome of the ongoing Competition Commission inquiry into the grocery market, as long as the evidence continues to underline the consumer benefits of strong retail competition, I think it unlikely either the Commission or the government will intervene.

So, while hoping for some rebalancing of Defra's priorities and a more critical approach to incremental regulation, I expect the overall thrust of policy will remain unchanged. In the immortal words of former US vice president Dan Quayle: "We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur."n

Kevin Hawkins is director general of the British Retail Consortium