Blair and Co's creation of a Department of Environment, Food, Rural Affairs and Almost Everything Else to replace MAFF has been given a courteous welcome by grocery's great and good. But they would be well advised to keep a wary eye on its progress. Many suspected that when the listening minister, Nick Brown, was shunted into a parliamentary sidings due to the running feud between the PM and Nick's parliamentary mate Gordon Brown, there would be hefty challenges where Whitehall understanding of food matters was concerned. Sure, with Margaret Beckett we have a political heavyweight with the intelligence to know when to bang the cabinet table. And it was reassuring to be told by food and farming minister Lord (he's known as Larry') Whitty that the mountainous list of responsibilities with which the new department has been lumbered will not cause it to be distracted from the pressing issues of the chain. But given I'm told food' was not in the official title of the new department until six hours after Mrs Beckett was handed her bulging portfolio, and "agriculture" doesn't appear at all, it makes me wonder what lies ahead. The history of the old Min of Ag, Fish and Food, and its previous preoccupation with the sons of the soil, certainly explains the government's mission to refocus the new department's agenda, turning it away from "protecting the farming industry to protecting consumers". But Beckett and Co should remember that during Nick Brown's time in the MAFF hot seat considerable progress was made to build food chain unity and, for that matter, expand that notion of caring for consumers' interests. It would be a pity if that work was undone because the new team's attention was diverted from serious food issues by an agenda ranging from foxhunting and cockfighting to the welfare of giraffes in Britain's zoos. The food industry will want to work positively and hard with Beckett and DEFRA. But the new team should at all times keep in mind the sector's huge contribution and importance to the economy. It must not be sidelined. Clive Beddall, Editor {{OPINION }}