NFU responds to the Red Tractor 2021 Standards Review

The NFU has submitted a detailed response to the Red Tractor 2021 Standards Review. It calls for a fresh approach and sets out eight key principles to guide the standards body to improve its offer to scheme members.

The organisation has said it has held more than 75 meetings across all regions during the consultation and have engaged with around 3,000 members to inform it response. It has highlighted how in some sectors an imbalance exists between the production standards expected of UK farmers, compared with those required of foreign imports.

The fresh producer sector has questioned what value any new revisions deliver back to farm, particularly where there is a disproportionate amount of cost and effort borne by the grower and a greater use of consultants to monitor and manage assurance programmes with little value in return. The NFU response also raises the critical argument that it is important not to duplicate other schemes that already provide robust assurance to a greater depth.

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.

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. 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.”

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