Christopher Haskins

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Christopher Haskins (born in 1937 in Dublin) is the former chairman of Northern Foods and Express Dairies.[1]

New Labour supporter and adviser

Haskins was an important business supporter of New Labour. One of Tony Blair's closest advisers (and a Labour Party funder — he gave the Labour Party donations of £5,000 a year from 1992 (with an extra £14,000 in 1997)).

He was made a Lord by Blair in 1998 and given a government job as Blair's 'UK Rural Recovery co-ordinator' post foot-and-mouth in 2001.[2]He is also Chairman of the Government's Better Regulation Task Force, a member of the New Deal Task Force [3], and a Trustee of Demos. He is a member of the CBI President's Council. He holds shares in Northern Foods that were worth £3.28 million in 1998. Northern Foods produce food under the brand names and own-label food for Sainsbury's, Tesco, Marks and Spencer and Asda. Express Dairies is the UK's largest supplier of milk to supermarkets.

Haskins has advised both Irish and UK governments on agricultural, economic and environmental policy options. As a member of the Culliton Committee in 1991, its recommendation to the Irish government on the importance of a Social Partnership has been endorsed with great success by all succeeding Irish governments. From 1992–94 he was involved with the Independent Commission on Social Justice; in 1995, he was an adviser to the Conservative government's Waldegrave Committee on C.A.P Reform and for four years from 1994 was a member of the UK government’s Round Table on Sustainable Development. He was also a member of the Hampel Committee, set up in 1996 by the London Stock Exchange to advise on Corporate Governance.[4]

Northern Foods

In 1998 Haskins got a 16% pay rise from Northern Foods, to £208,479 (plus share options than gained him £380,388). He holds shares in Northern Foods that were worth £3.28 million in 1998. He also received a £104,000 salary from Express Dairies (and held shares worth £820,000 in 1999).

Northern Foods produce food under the brand names Fox's, Ski, Eden Vale, Munch Bunch, Goodfella's, Hollands pies, Dalepak, Ross, Pork Farms Bowyers and own-label food for Sainsbury's, Tesco, Marks and Spencer and Asda. They produce the buns for Burger King, Farley's Rusks under licence and Batchelors Baked Beans in Ireland. They own NFT, one of the largest chilled food distributors in the UK. [5]

Express Dairies is the UK's largest supplier of milk to supermarkets and the largest supplier of UHT milk and cream. In January 2000, after taking over Glanbia UK, they cut 460 jobs, closing dairies and distribution centres. [6]

One of the 58 business leaders who wrote to the Times in May 2001 in support of the Labour Party.

Pro GM

Haskins is passionately pro-GM.[7]He has repeatedly spoken out against retailers and manufacturers who have 'banned the use of GM ingredients in their products' - despite the fact that Northern Foods also removed GM ingredients from its products in response to demand from its customers.

On the future of food and farming, Haskins defines himself as an optimist, opposing 'the prophets of doom'. However, he's not averse to doom-mongering when it comes to organic agriculture. He said, 'A wholly organic world agricultural system would quickly lead to mass starvation' and 'economic and political collapse in much of the developing world'. The answer lies rather 'in genetic modification raising food outputs to spectacular heights'. Haskins presents no evidence in support of these claims and ignores evidence of, for example, yield drag rather than yield gain from GM crops. [8]

He has made vehement attacks on GM critics like the Prince of Wales and on organic farming. He said, 'Let the heir to the throne enjoy his excellent if somewhat risky organic food' but 'Let my cattle enjoy their genetically modified soya' and 'let the poor, starving people of the world have access to safe, affordable food - which GM food will probably offer them.' [9]

Haskins, Agri-business & "neurotic sensitivities"

One somewhat trenchant critic of Haskins is George Monbiot, who in 2001, argued that Haskins was "chosen to spearhead the assault of the agro-industrialists", arguing that:

The global war against the peasantry has been prosecuted with equal vigour by state communists and corporate capitalists. Both have sought to stamp out economically independent people. Both have claimed that, by centralising the supply and distribution of food, they can guarantee the world against famine. And both have engineered starvation. [10]

This related to the appointment of Haskins as the government's "rural recovery co-ordinator", who were to oversee the rebuilding of the countryside's economy after the foot and mouth crisis. For Monboit, putting Haskins in charge of rural recovery "is like putting Lord Tebbit in charge of race relations".

For his part, Haskins argues that those who oppose genetically modified food and so on are if not Luddites, followers of Malthus:

...if he was alive today, Malthus might still argue that there must be a limit to this use of chemicals, fungicides, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. He might claim that machines cannot get any bigger, water is getting scarcer, there is much less new land available for cultivation without having a damaging effect on the environment and there is little further scope for food preservation. Environmentalists and animal welfare campaigners already argue for a fully organic approach to food production. This would certainly bring Malthus's worst predictions to fruition as organic farming is much less productive than "conventional" farming and consequently, there would be less food available and food prices would soar. It would lead to economic and political collapse in much of the developing world... So why am I confident the world will find ways of feeding an extra 3bn people, confounding the Malthusisms once again? The answer lies in genetic modification raising food outputs to spectacular heights, satellite technology squeezing vital improvements from harvests and the elimination of inefficiencies in agricultural industries across the world."[11]

The Malthusian analogy is repeated in (2008) Prospect magazine.[12]Haskins' writing for the Centre for European Reform (2005) focuses on the effects of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and argued that "The EU should treat farming like any other EU industry, and merely oblige the agricultural sector to comply with the rules of the single market"; and also that subsidies should be removed.[13]This drew on Haskins' work when in November 2002, Margaret Beckett, then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, invited Haskins to carry out an independent review of the arrangements for delivering government rural polices in England.

Haskins' report, the 'Rural Delivery Review' included 33 separate recommendations for 'improving delivery of rural policies' and was published on 11 November 2003.Beckett and the Government’s initial response was to broadly support the Report’s recommendations.

Work immediately began on Phase One of the Modernising Rural Delivery Programme, including a review of rural funding streams, to create a vision of the new rural delivery landscape. Defra established multi-organisation teams working with our partners to drive the work forward and shape the future arrangements. Staff and unions have been fully engaged to ensure they have had plenty of opportunity to give their views.[14]

Haskins was said to be a confidante of both Neil Kinnock and John Smith/[15]The same source notes that in his early days he was:

...a trainee with the De La Rue printing company; but, he once told an interviewer, he hated the job and was sacked. His next job was in the personnel department of the Ford Motor Company: this was when he became involved in politics, not on the side of the bosses, let it be said, and he may have the unique distinction of having been expelled from the Labour Party even before he had become a member, because of his left-wing views (at that time, he was marching at Aldermaston in protest against atmospheric nuclear testing).

Haskins is not uncritical of the government, and indeed was expelled from the Labour Party (for the second time[16]) for making a donation to a Liberal Democrat candidate (who won) during the 2005 election, whom he described as a friend.[17]The MP, Danny Alexander, was the Director of Communications at the European Movement in 1996, remaining in this role when the organisation was subsumed into the now defunct Britain in Europe campaign in 1999. Haskins is chairman of the European Movement. Alexander had been chief of staff to the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg — himself a former lobbyist at the European Parliament — as well as responsible for leading preparation of the party's manifesto. Since 2005, Alexander has been a Member of the Scottish affairs committee.[18]

Haskins is not uncritical of the consumers of his products. In a speech to the Annual Dinner of the UK Provision Trade Federation in 2001 he was reported to have stated that:

The misplaced "neurotic sensitivities" of a proportion of the general public are complicating the quest for rational regulation of the food industry, according to Lord Haskins, chairman of UK food group Northern Foods.

This also adds that Haskins claimed that genuine progress in developing the food sector was being hampered by the vested interests of politicians and bureaucrats, and by the "spectacular obsession with eliminating all risk" which is now evident in the media. [19]This neurosis has persisted and in a (2007) Times article [20]which outlines the "Buy-one-get-one-free deals and a “neurotic” attitude to sell-by dates" which have led to British consumers throwing away almost a third of the food they buy at supermarkets. The article describes the wastage as "now out of control", and is based on research from Wrap, the government-funded Waste & Resources Action Programme — which focused on household waste rather than the bigger picture involving food processors. Haskins is quoted as saying:

“These dates and codes are needed for food safety reasons and especially on raw meats, poultry and cooked chicken. I wouldn’t advise anyone to eat any of these out of date as it could be dodgy,” he said. “But otherwise they are intended as a guide. The labels says ‘best before’ not that they will kill you after. Yoghurt has a shelf-life of three weeks — well, I’ve definitely eaten yoghurt that’s been six weeks old and it has been fine.”

This type of risk taking with yoghurt extends into a critique of Britain's "inherently autocratic, inflexible and remote" regulatory culture, according to a profile in, concerning Haskins' departure from the Better Regulation Task Force:

As head of this Task Force, he has advocated the legalisation of cannabis, the BBC to take advertising, the Church of England to be disestablished and the country's main sporting bodies dumped. He has also advocated 24 hour drinking. He has called on the Government to rethink the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) that allows the interception of emails.[21]

Corpwatch also note that Haskins is a patron of the Whitehall and Industry Group (WIG), which they describe as an independent, not-for-profit organisation, founded in 1984 "to promote better understanding between industry and government", and that WIG organises company attachments in government departments. They speculate that "Haskins was presumably instrumental in ensuring the Northern Foods placement in MAFF".

Haskins is part of the networks around Demos and the Centre for European Reform, and the Foreign Policy Centre (FPC), with FPC publications such as:

  • Is there a future for European farming? European Rural Communities Paper 3, (2002) Chris Haskins funded by RSPB, Tesco.
  • THE FUTURE OF EUROPEAN RURAL COMMUNITIES (2001) Lord Haskins, Sponsored by Tesco.

Haskins and the NHS

In 2002, Haskins, via the think-tank the King's Fund chaired the production of a paper, The Future of the NHS. According to the Evening Standard the paper said:

"Too much attention has been paid to reforming the organisational structure of the NHS without seeking to understand and take into account the impact of patients and staff." King's Fund chief executive Rabbi Julia Neuberger commented: "The whole of the NHS should be freed from political control of its day-today workings."[23]

The King's Fund proposed the creation of an "NHS Corporation", at arm's length from the Government, to oversee standards, local funding and regulation. Health ministers would retain responsibility for overall strategy and funding levels but would no longer be "drawn into excessive involvement in the management of the service".[24]


Haskins was educated at Trinity College Dublin, where he took an Honours degree in modern history.

Other links


  1. The Guardian, "Pastures New for Milk Man Turned Rural Tsar", November 18, 2001,
  2. BBC,"Profile: Lord Haskins".
  3. Monbiot.comm, "That's the Horror of Haskins", George Monbiot, September 1 2001.
  5. Eurofood, "Northern Foods reports first half rise", 21 Nov 2002.
  6. Eurofood, "Express to axe 460 jobs", 3 Feb 2000.
  7. BBC, "Lord Haskins criticises GM opposition", 21 Feb 2002.
  8. BBC, "Lord Haskins on world food debate", 20 Feb 2002.
  9. BBC, "Peer attacks Prince's organic ideals", 20 July 2002.
  10. The Guardian, George Monbiot, [ Lord Haskins has been chosen to spearhead the assault of the agro-industrialists], August 7, 2001.
  11. Haskins' BBC Wales lecture on the 'The Future of Food and Farming', February 2002.
  12. Chris Haskins, The return of Malthus: The Malthusian prophecy of a catastrophe in the world's food supply could yet come to pass, January 2008.
  13. Christopher Haskins, CAP REFORM CAN RESHAPE THE EU BUDGET, October/November 2005 - CER BULLETIN, ISSUE 44.
  14. Lord Haskins' Report. On 17 July 2001, the Foreign Policy Centre launched "The Future of European Rural Communities" - a 9 month project into the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy to be led by Lord Haskins.
  16. Haskins is quoted as saying that he and others decided to "run a CND candidate" in a by-election, and: "We announced we were going to do it and George Brown expelled us", see Haskins kicked out for funding opposition, Francis Elliott, The Independent, 18 September 2005.
  17. BBC, Labour peer expelled for donation, 23 September 2005.
  19. Agra Europe, "Neurotic" public fuelling food scares, February 23, 2001.
  20. Valerie Elliott and Marcus Leroux, Growing food waste mountain blamed on get-one-free offers, March 17, 2007.
  22. Other writings on Europe by Haskins includes: Britain and Europe – Yet another moment of truth © The Federal Trust for Education and Research, 2003, European Essay No. 27.
  23. Haskins: Politicians are crippling NHS, Evening Standard, 24 January, 2002.
  24. Care debate turns into row over race and spin, Independent, 24 January 2002. Details on the report are at the King's Fund website.
  25. Corpwatch op cit state that: "This is a charity and company limited by guarantee attached to the Rothampsted Research Station, part of the Institute of Arable Crop Research". Ben Miflin, former head of the Institute of Arable Crops Research is mentioned in connection with "the circulation of bogus research evidence critical of organic farming" in ORGANIC ATTACK! produced by the Norfolk Genetic Information network. Details of the organisation can be found at Institute of Arable Crop Research, STRATEGIC PLAN 2000-2005. The Lawes Agricultural Trust Company details can be found at Rothamsted Research Board of Directors.
  26. Science and Technology in Agriculture APPG,, accessed 16 November 2015