EXCLUSIVE CLIVE BEDDALL Fears that the campaign to unite the food chain, pioneered by former minister of agriculture Nick Brown, may collapse as a "more consumer-minded" department replaces the much criticised MAFF are unfounded, according to the new minister for food and farming, Lord Whitty. In an exclusive interview with The Grocer on Wednesday, he promised that working with the "entire food chain, not just farmers" would top his agenda. He added: "While it is important I look at the economics of the industry in some depth, I will immediately be seeking to visit all parts of the chain." But while adding that he was aware of the work done by Brown, the new minister stressed it was important to keep the interests of consumers in mind. John Lawrence Whitty, known universally in Whitehall circles as Larry Whitty, was in the previous government parliamentary under-secretary of state at DETR. A former trade unionist, he is also an ex general secretary of the Labour Party. His role at the DETR brought him into contact with the food sector on environmental issues. And although he was not surprised to be given a job in the new department, he admitted on Wednesday that receiving the food chain portfolio at DEFRA had taken him by surprise. "I want to meet as many representatives of the chain as I can, as rapidly as possible, so I can consider all aspects of the role of government policy in a market situation." However, in a direct reference to the continuing foot and mouth crisis, Lord Whitty admitted that "important issues" needed to be solved as a priority. But he rejected speculation that the new DEFRA would be too large to give the right emphasis to major issues facing food and farming. "Under Margaret Beckett we are a great team. In fact, this department is not as large as my previous one, so I don't see any problems." - See pp16/17 and Opinion, page 18. {{NEWS }}