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For immediate release

March 2002

PRESS RELEASE

VOICE OF THE COUNTRYSIDE TO BE HEARD IN WHITEHALL

A top food adviser from Oxfordshire has been appointed to advise the Government on rural policy. Specialist food consultant Susanne Austin has been asked to join the new South East Rural Forum set up by the Government to monitor the delivery of policy in the rural areas of the region. An independent panel of groups interested in food production, countryside and the rural economy, chose her. Miss Austin runs a food advisory and consultancy service based in Oxford, and has been working closely with the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) to identify links between high quality English food and a sustainable agricultural practice.

Susanne Austin, who is Founder of The Cotswold Food Group, said:

"I am delighted to be taking on this new appointment. Why - for the love of my country. It is a great opportunity and a challenge. We are just recovering from the blight of Foot-and-Mouth disease and the tourism sector is only now beginning to pick up again. This initiative comes straight from last year's Rural White Paper. The Rural Forum will be a high-level body reporting directly to the DEFRA Secretary of State, Margaret Beckett, and to the Cabinet Committee on Rural Affairs.

"I come from a farming background and my concern is to stimulate quality food as part of a sustainable agriculture and countryside. The South East is blessed with some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Outlets for, and public interest in, English food is limited. Farmers and producers are struggling on the lowest incomes for years. I don't see why a viable sustainable agriculture can't go hand in hand with profitable farming? I will not be happy until I can see those results around me.

"The new Rural Forum will be tasked with finding solutions to these and other problems, such as social housing and the needs of young and old alike. The voice of rural England will not be narrow and shrill, but dynamic and highly focused. It will be my mission to work with others to this end; I want to see words put into action."

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