If anyone was in any doubt as to the food industry's importance to the general election, Gordon Brown and David Cameron's schedules this week would have dispelled it.

On Tuesday after asking the Queen to dissolve parliament in readiness for polling on 6 May, the PM's first stop on the campaign trail was a Morrisons in Strood, Kent, a week after Cameron visited the retailer's RDC in Sittingbourne.

Brown followed up this trip on Wednesday by visiting Innocent's HQ in London, where he and wife Sarah posed under a sign claiming 'Tough times don't last but tough people do'.

Not to be outdone, the Conservative party leader spent Wednesday afternoon in Warburtons' Bolton bakery before visiting Bestway Cash & Carry's depot in Cardiff. Both Warburtons and Bestway are backing the Tories' pledge not to increase National Insurance contributions.

Leading retail leaders such as Sainsbury's boss Justin King and M&S executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose signed an open letter backing the Tories on the issue last week, while Northern Foods chief executive Stefan Barden was among a second batch of employers to sign up on Wednesday. Tesco has refused to join the campaign, however.

National Insurance is just one of several policy issues the parties are fighting over that will impact on this industry. Cider was high on the agenda this week as the Tories said it would not bring in the 10p increase in duty announced in last month's Budget. The government has delayed the plan until the next parliament should it win the election.

Labour and the Tories have accused each other of secret plans to extend VAT to food. They both have ­different visions for a supermarket ombudsman, while the Tories and Lib Dems have pledged to review the government's plans to introduce a tobacco display ban.

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