Party conferences may not be high on the agenda of anyone not directly involved in politics, but they provide unique insight into policy priorities. Although Labour may have been distracted by the Miliband drama and the Conservatives by reaction to child benefit cuts, the fringes were abuzz with frank discussion about new strategies and agendas.
While 2010 may be seen as a year of change for British politics, from a food industry perspective this year's conferences suggest remarkable political consensus as politicians placed the food debate at the centre of their green agendas.
The clearest common ground among MPs is on food security in the context of scientific advice that global food production will have to increase 70% by 2050. Numerous ministers emphasised they take this very seriously.
Coalition ministers used it as a start point for a robust and joined-up defence of British farming emphasising that the UK is well-placed to increase yields, export more and lead the next 'green revolution'. This is seen as a new economic opportunity with the entire Defra ministerial team stating a desire to position agriculture at the centre of the reinvention of UK manufacturing.
There were hints at the need for a grown-up debate on GM crops and further consensus on the need for transparent communication to consumers by retailers and manufacturers, particularly on food labelling. MPs from all parties were forthright about Country of Origin labelling as a means of supporting British agriculture, none more so than newly appointed shadow Defra secretary Mary Creagh, who maintained her belief that the coalition labelling approach is too soft on industry.
Outgoing chair of consumer focus Lord Whitty emphasised the importance of nutrition labelling, which had to be understood by consumers in order for good food purchasing choices to be made with a single system across the industry making the most sense.
Cross-party there were also concerns about poor food education and the need to reconnect young people with food. Labour's Hilary Benn picked up this theme as part of a speech focused on the importance of educating the public about healthy and sustainable food. The coalition also committed to retaining Labour's wellbeing campaign, Change4Life, in some form.
In the context of 'light touch' government, the new coalition's agenda appears to be to ensure cross-departmental management of issues such as health and waste and reduce the burden of intervention and regulation. There's a clear desire to use the power of the £2bn spend on public purchasing of food to enhance nutrition, sustainability and local sourcing. Ministers also trumpet the belief that better labelling enables better choices and that years of consumer conditioning need to be reversed. This will mean positive food education. It also means rejecting over-packaging and excess waste.
Overall, the parties gave the impression of acceptance for the fundamental need to boost UK food production by supporting manufacturing and farmers. But politicians agreed this must not come at a cost to the environment.
If the coalition's 'light touch' does enable food innovation to produce more with less in a sustainable way, then the UK can lead the green revolution.
Ian Hogg is director of corporate social responsibility at the Findus Group.