It wasn't only US buyers who were conspicuous by their absence from Anuga in Cologne this week. Also missing due, we were told, to prior engagements, were Margaret Beckett, Lord Whitty and the rest of the new DEFRA team. And that's a pity. For given the operating headaches caused by currency issues, foot and mouth, the BSE legacy and the sinister, unexpected effects of terrorism, it was a tribute to the determination and resilience of our gallant band of food and drink exporters that they were able to mount any sort of exhibit. The reluctance of many Americans to fly across the Atlantic, given the horrors in New York and Washington on September 11, is understandable. But it's unfortunate that no senior members of DEFRA's ministerial team ­ or perhaps even a token Royal ­ made the short trip to help wave the Union Flag. Some cynics, of course, believe that ministerial pats on the head mean little to overseas shippers in their pursuit of export success. But judging by the comments we heard around the Anuga aisles earlier this week, there were many among the 80 or so British exhibitors who would have welcomed tangible, high level Westminster support at world food's most important event. DEFRA should take a lesson from the Germans. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, plus members of the Bonn cabinet, took time off from pressing international terrorism issues to show appreciation of their exporters' efforts. When was Tony Blair last seen at a food fair? Still, at least the highly motivated Food from Britain team, plus a handful of senior DEFRA civil servants, lent support to the six British pavilions. And a lone ministerial figure, Welsh rural affairs secretary Carwyn Jones, did a great job waving the flag for the principality. But it's a black mark for the DEFRA ministerial group. By failing to support a solid UK exporting effort staged against unusually difficult circumstances, they lent weight to the charge they can be indifferent to some of the real issues within the food business. Clive Beddall, Editor {{OPINION }}