Cutting regulation, reforming agricultural policy and buying British will boost the UK food industry and help create jobs, Owen Paterson, the new Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has said.

Discussing the UK’s food and drinks sector at this week’s Conservative Party conference, Paterson said one of his first events on taking up his new role last month was a meeting at No. 10 with farmers, producers, distributors and exporters.

“The wider food supply chain supports 3.7m jobs and contributes nearly GBP90bn a year to the UK economy,” he told attendees. “While we are already helping secure 6,000 apprenticeships in the food and drink manufacturing sector alone, we must continue to work with the whole industry.”

Paterson told delegates it was important to “get the right people into the right jobs [and] give them the necessary skills to capitalise on the opportunities offered by the growing global demand for high-quality British products”.

Paterson suggested there was more to be done to develop growth. “As we help our farmers and growers seize these opportunities, we must also help them overcome the difficulties. We must continue to cut regulation and get out of people’s hair,” he said.

“We must radically reform Europe’s outdated and monolithic agricultural policy – one size does not fit all. We must radically reform Europe’s fisheries policy, which is a biological, environmental, economic and social disaster. We need to bring these decisions closer to home.”

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Paterson also touched on the “plight” of the UK’s dairy farmers this summer, who have battled to agree a deal on a code of practice to govern relations in the sector.

“Jim Paice [former farming minister] deserves our heartfelt praise for his work in bringing farmers and processers together to agree a code of practice, which will rebalance their relationship and give greater certainty to our milk producers.”

He added: “Just as we got behind Team GB this summer, we must get behind our farmers. By buying British, we can support our producers and enjoy some of the best dairy products in the world.”