Exclusive Clive Beddall The farmer and former meat industry executive charged by Tony Blair to head the Commission on the Future of Farming and Food has given a swift retort to consumer group critics who claim he will be unable to take an "independent line". Sir Don Curry said on Thursday: "I am not prepared to simply endorse existing policies. We need to be radical and open-minded. After all, this is the most important project ever to involve the food and farming sector." Some consumer groups have greeted the appointment of Curry, a Cumbrian farmer, with reservations. A National Consumer Council spokeswoman said it would have preferred a figure who was independent from food and farming to head the Commission. Sources close to government, however, point out that given the fast-track agenda the PM has given the project, it was important to appoint "someone with a clear understanding of the food chain and its challenges". Speaking exclusively to The Grocer, Sir Don said the Commission would keep to the prime minister's fast-track agenda and have a detailed report in Downing Street by December 31. The former chairman of the Meat and Livestock Commission promised that he and his team, which includes Sainsbury chief executive Sir Peter Davis, Unilever vice president Iain Ferguson and National Consumer Council chair Deirdre Hutton, would be taking views from hundreds of organisations and individuals between now and Christmas. And he revealed that since the Commission had been announced seven days ago, he had been "bombarded with bits of paper" from groups and individuals seeking to express their views. But he promised: "I will not be limiting our consultation process. It's important we hear the views of everyone, the food chain and consumers alike. "And while we will obviously not be able to see everyone, we will study every view and request made to us." Curry believes the Commission's major challenge is helping the British food chain to "compete in an increasingly competitive environment in which British consumers demand high standards". Downing Street sources said the Commission had been given top priority status, and the government had promised Curry "whatever resources necessary" to keep to the planned timetable. And with a comment which will please many of the countryside lobby groups keen to put their views to the Commission, Curry told The Grocer: "While we will be looking at the sustainability of systems needed to keep food and farming to the forefront of competitiveness, we also need to ensure we are not damaging our environment and heritage. "Having said that, we have a wonderful opportunity to reshape our industry and give clear leadership for the future." - See Opinion, page 14. {{NEWS }}