The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was a United Kingdom government department created by the Board of Agriculture Act 1889 and at that time called the Board of Agriculture.
It became the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 1955 and was responsible for agriculture, fisheries and food. Until the Food Standards Agency was created, it was responsible for both food production and food safety, which was seen by some to give rise to a conflict of interest.
MAFF was widely criticised for its handling of the outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (more widely known as Mad Cow Disease) and later the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001. It was merged with the part of the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions that dealt with the environment (and with a small part of the Home Office) to create a new government department, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2001. However, MAFF was not formally dissolved until 27 March 2002, when the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Dissolution) Order 2002 (S.I. 2002/794) came into force.
It was the last Ministry of the United Kingdom government not to be a Department of State. The Ministry of Defence continues to be known as a Ministry although it has been a Department since the 1960s.
The Board of Agriculture, which later become the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), was established under the Board of Agriculture Act 1889. It was preceded, however, by an earlier Board of Agriculture, founded by Royal Charter on 23 August 1793 as the Board or Society for the Encouragement of Agriculture and Internal Improvement, which lasted until it was dissolved in June 1822.
A significant predecessor of the second Board of Agriculture (later MAFF) was the Tithe Commission, which was set up in 1841 under the Tithe Act 1836 and amalgamated with the Enclosure Commissioners and the Copyhold Commissioners to become the Lord Commissioners for England and Wales under the Settled Land Act 1882, responsible to the Home Secretary, which became the Land Department of the new Board of Agriculture in 1889. Another predecessor was the Cattle Plague Department, set up by the Home Office to deal with an outbreak of rinderpest in London in June 1865. This was renamed the Veterinary Department of the Privy Council in 1869 and became part of the new Board of Agriculture in 1889.
The Board of Agriculture Act 1889, passed on 12 August, established the Board of Agriculture and combined all Government responsibilities for agricultural matters in one department. The first President of the new Board was the Rt. Hon. Henry Chaplin, there were 90 members of staff and the first annual estimate was for £55,000. The following year, the Board took responsibility for the Ordnance Survey and in 1903, it took responsibility for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Also in 1903, an Act was passed to transfer certain powers and duties relating to the fishing industry from the Board of Trade to what then became the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries.
In 1904, the Board appointed honorary agricultural correspondents throughout the country to liaise with the Board on Regional Matters and to give advice to farmers. In 1911, responsibility for all agricultural matters in Scotland except animal health was transferred to a newly created Board of Agriculture for Scotland. Meanwhile, the country was increasingly becoming dependence on imported food. By 1914, the output of home-grown food only met one-third of the country's needs.
War was declared on 4 August 1914. Good harvests and little interruption to imports of food during the first two years of meant that there were no shortages of food. The agricultural situation then changed for the worse with a poor crop harvest, failure of the potato crop, declining harvest abroad and increased shipping losses. In 1916, Rowland Prothero was appointed President of the Board of Agriculture with a seat in the Cabinet and with the aim of stimulating food production.
In December 1916, a Ministry of Food was created under the New Ministries & Secretaries Act 1916 and Lord Devonport appointed Food Controller to regulate the supply and consumption of food and to encourage food production. A Food Production Department was established by the Board of Agriculture in 1917 to organise and distribute agricultural inputs, such as labour, feed, fertiliser and machinery, and increase output of crops. Provision of labour provided considerable difficulty as many men working on farms had enlisted but co-operation between the War Office and the Board enabled men to be released to help with spring cultivation and harvest. Also in 1917, the Women's Land Army was created to provide substitutes for men called up to the forces.
The Corn Production Act 1917 guaranteed minimum prices for wheat and oats, specified a minimum wage for agricultural workers and established the Agricultural Wages Board, to ensure stability for farmers and a share of this stability for agricultural workers. The aim was to increase output of home-grown food and reduce dependence on imports. In June 1917, Lord Devonport resigned as Food Controller to be replaced by Lord Rhondda, who introduced compulsory rationing of meat, sugar and butter in early 1918. By 1918, there were controls over almost all aspects of farming; the Food Controller bought all essential food supplies and the Corn Production Act guaranteed cereal prices. Lord Rhondda died on 1 July 1918 and was succeeded by John Clynes, MP. The armistice treaty ending World War I was signed on 11 November 1918. Following the war, the Food Controller resigned in 1919 and the Ministry of Food progressively wound down and closed on 31 March 1921.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Act 1919 abolished the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries and created the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, which took on the powers of the Board and the remaining functions of the Food Production Department established during the war. In 1919, prices of farm produce had risen by 25% compared to prices at the end of the war. The Agricultural Act 1920 set out guaranteed prices for wheat and oats based on the 1919 averages, to be reviewed annually. However, in the early 1920s, prices fell drastically, the Act was repealed, guaranteed prices were replaced by lump sum payments and the Agricultural Wages Board abolished, as part of the Government's deflationary policies. By 1922, virtually all of war-time controls had gone. The area under cultivation in Britain fell from 12 million acres (49,000 km²) in 1918 to 9 million acres (36,000 km²) in 1926. Farm prices continued to decline and then fell by 34% in the three years after 1929.
During this period, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries remained a small department concerned with pest and disease control, agricultural research and education, improvement of livestock, and provision of allotments and smallholdings. Over the next few years, its workload grew.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Government introduce new measures to support domestic agriculture and farmers' income. Subsidies or price insurance schemes were created for sugar beet, wheat, cattle, dairy and sheep. The Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marketing) Act 1928 promoted the standardisation of grades and packaging and introduced the "National Mark", a trade mark denoting home-produced food of a defined quality for eggs, beef, apples and pears. The Agricultural Marketing Acts of 1931 and 1933 sought to organise farmers into co-operative marketing associations and created Marketing Boards for bacon, pigs, hops, milk and potatoes. The Import Duties Act 1932 introduced a tariff on most imports including fruit and vegetables and quotas on imports of bacon, ham and other meat products. In 1936, the tithe rent charge was abolished, compensation paid to the Church and the money recovered from farmers over a 60-year period. In 1937, a scheme was introduce to subsidise the spread of lime on agricultural land to boost the fertility of the soil. The Minister of Agriculture was given powers to regulate the cultivation and management of land, end tenancies, even take possession of land, under the Defence of the Realm regulations. On 1 September 1939, much of these powers were delegated to County War Agricultural Executive Committees ("War Ags").
War was declared on 3 September 1939. The UK entered the war well prepared for the maintenance of supplies of food but with less than 40% of the country's needs produced at home. The Ministry of Food was formed on 8 September and William Morrison appointed Minister. The Ministry of Food became the sole buyer and importer of food and regulated prices, guaranteeing farmers prices and markets for their produce. The Marketing Boards, except for milk and hops, were suspended.
Recruiting began for the Women's Land Army and in 1940, food rationing was introduced. Lord Woolton succeeded William Morrison as Minister for Food. In 1941, the US Land-Lease act was passed under which food, agricultural machinery and equipment was send from the US to the UK.