NFU calls for "fresh approach" when thinking of Red Tractor farming standards

The NFU has submitted a thorough and detailed response to a consultation on how Red Tractor standards should look across the six farming sectors.
calendar icon 11 March 2021
clock icon 7 minute read

The NFU is calling for a fresh approach and sets out key principles to guide the standards body to improve its offer to scheme members.

As part of its response, the NFU has highlighted how in some sectors an imbalance exists between the production standards expected of UK farmers, compared with those required of foreign imports.

NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts said

“Red Tractor’s standards are the bedrock of UK agriculture and have helped establish our food and farming industry as the benchmark for quality across the world. There is strong support for Red Tractor’s original purpose of assuring the public that food is safe, produced with care to high standards of environmental protection and animal welfare and is fully traceable back to UK farms.

“Continued support for the Red Tractor assurance scheme will be crucial not just at home but, as new trade deals are developed, it will also help to bolster ‘Brand Britain’ as we take British food to new, global markets.

“However, as Red Tractor standards continue to evolve, some of the proposed changes in this consultation have provoked strong feelings within our membership, particularly concerning how the proposed changes demonstrate value back to the farm gate. There is a real risk that farmers and growers will not see deliverable benefits from the Red Tractor scheme without properly addressing these concerns.

“That’s why we are calling for a fresh approach. We’ve set out eight key principles that Red Tractor and the six farming sectors should use as a guide when developing standards now and in the future. We believe this will ensure that Red Tractor standards are more meaningful for farmers, increase relevance and integrity within the food supply chain, and importantly, deliver value back to the farm.

The eight key principles set out by the NFU are

  • Continue to retain trust and support growth in the domestic market for British food.
  • Provide an assurance platform for growth in the export market for British food and ensure high value exports have robust assurance supporting traceability claims.
  • Retain its leading position on cost effective assurance and protect members from inspection and regulatory duplication. Any additional costs associated with implementing new standards should be supported with a clear and simple cost benefit analysis or business case.
  • Be empowered to challenge duplicity within the marketplace and not facilitate the hypocrisy of buyers sourcing policies which undermines domestic standards.
  • Seek to add value through segmentation and market differentiation where there is a need to deliver different value propositions to different markets, without inflating the core standard and eroding value to scheme members.
  • Provide marketing choice for buyers. Scheme options, or bolt-ons, could provide competition for cost-effective or a more practicable alternative for brands and scheme members alike.
  • Provide a viable but discretionary alternative to new or increasing regulatory burdens and it should deliver efficient solutions in areas that are susceptible to regulatory burdens.
  • Explore the opportunities for inspections to be driven by outcomes and data, and where possible reduce the burden of inspection and add value back to farmers

Stuart Roberts continued:

“In the arable sector, for example, where there is limited use of the Red Tractor logo on end products, members are concerned that the high standards delivered domestically are undermined by imports competing in the same market. This hypocrisy weakens the integrity of standards and burdens farmers with extra cost. There needs to be more transparency about what standards the supply chains are asking for and whether these can be matched by imported product.

“We would also like to see Red Tractor aspiring to be a progressive, cost effective and flexible assurance scheme which continues to be a vital part of the UK food supply chain. It must show it is listening and provide confidence to farmers and growers that new standards are outcome focused, not just a tick box exercise.

“Now more than ever, we need to ensure that all our standards on British food, whether for animal welfare, food safety or environmental protection, meet the needs of both farmers and the public.”

Poultry

For poultry meat producers (eggs are not covered by Red Tractor), accreditation is crucial to access the market. There is concern among our poultry members that some of the new standards replicate existing legal requirements. We believe that Red Tractor should not be a proxy for existing statutory enforcement. The proposed new standards would make the audit process increasingly burdensome for poultry meat producers, without any tangible benefit to producers or consumers.

Livestock

The beef, lamb and swine sector has taken a pragmatic approach to some of the suggestions such as recording veterinary medicine use. However, members have raised some areas of concern, especially around the need for a professional feed adviser.

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