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George Eustice takes over at Defra

The minister responsible for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra), Theresa Villiers, has been dismissed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as part of his latest cabinet reshuffle.

She has been replaced by former farming minister, George Eustice, a long-time member of the Defra team, and Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, in Cornwall.

Announcing her own dismissal on Facebook, Villiers, who has only been in the role for sixth months, said “what the Prime Minister giveth, the Prime Minister taketh away”, and said she’d been told “to make way for someone new”.

While Villiers has been at the helm, Defra has announced to significant pieces of legislation in the Agriculture and Environment Bills.

Eustice, who comes from a farming background, is well embedded in the farming industry thanks to his previous role as agriculture minister, and serving on the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) select committee.

He has been credited with working closely on the Agriculture Bill, which had an unprecedented focus on soil health and animal welfare.

George Eustice

His responsibilities as secretary of state at Defra will now include overseeing post-Brexit policies for food and farming.

In contrast to another predecessor, Michael Gove, who gained a reputation for support of the green movement, according to voting watchdog, They Work for You, Eustice has generally voted against measures to prevent climate change.

He has also consistently voted for selling England’s state owned forests, against financial incentives for low carbon emission electricity generation, and for culling badgers to tackle bovine TB.

He also once said the “jobless or unemployed” should be called upon to fill labour shortages for picking of fruit and veg, and downplayed fears about the scarcity of migrant workers in horticulture, despite urgent warnings from the NFU’s horticulture board on the topic.

He has since backed calls to expand a new trial of a Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme, after pressure from constituents and business owners with fears of a labour shortage, according to his blog.

 “The Soil Association welcomes the appointment of George Eustice as secretary of state and hopes he builds on the legacy of predecessors’ at Defra, and his own work as agriculture minister, by continuing to push forward the policy agenda to secure a healthier environment and more sustainable farming sector,” said Gareth Morgan, head of policy at the Soil Association.

“As minister of state for agriculture, George Eustice helped re-frame agriculture policy, angling it towards a broader vision, bringing soil firmly onto the policy agenda, and giving priority to environmental and animal welfare outcomes alongside food production. There is a huge challenge ahead for food, farming and the environment, and we look forward to working with him.”

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