The NFU Council is to create two critical reviews into how farm assurance schemes operate in England and Wales, and whether they provide value for producers.
The statement has been issued in the wake of controversy over Red Tractor’s recent announcement it is to launch a new environmental module from next April to give consumers assurances over how the environmental credentials of the food they buy.
One of the main problems sparked by the announcement was the apparent lack of consultation with farmers over the initiative. It was also seen to be designed to benefit retailers, but paid for by farmers.
The first of the NFU’s reviews will examine the governance of Red Tractor, which has caused controversy in recent weeks after announcing a new environmental module; the second will look more widely at farm assurance and will be aimed at revolutionising farm to fork assurance.
NFU Officeholders and Council members came together to agree that this work on Red Tractor didn’t go far enough to deal with wider and deeper issues around assurance, and would not be able to identify the opportunities and changes that are needed.
For the Red Tractor governance review the NFU Food, Farming and Environment Board decided that the terms of reference and scope would be to:
Establish Red Tractor’s decision-making procedures and their transparency.
Examine who is consulted by Red Tractor in its development of standards, and when.
Look at the balance of this feedback and how Red Tractor engages with farmers.
Examine the effectiveness of these processes and identify the obstacles which need addressing.
Speak to those involved across the Red Tractor process in determining all these things.
Revolutionising Farm to Fork Assurance
The second larger review, proposed by President Minette Batters and supported by her officeholder team, will look at repurposing assurance in a post-Brexit world. The review will examine whether producers get fair value from assurance schemes, look at the relevance of assurance to different sectors and whether the “one size fits all” model is fair and correct while also examining the impact on farmers’ and growers’ mental health.
NFU President Minette Batters said: “I’m very happy indeed that, after what’s been a difficult few days for all of us, the review into Red Tractor governance can now begin and we can start to build this second, far bigger, review in to assurance as a whole.
“It’s time for that to happen, so we can look at what works and what doesn’t, and to make sure assurance is fit for purpose in the years ahead.
“It’s critical that this involves a wide consultation with NFU members through their boards, both regional and sector, and also that it is a collaborative review, undertaken across all the farming organisations.”
Meanwhile, Red Tractor chair Christine Tacon has published an open letter to Red Tractor members, stressing that the assurance body wanted to ‘offer a positive contribution and the views of our members matter to us very much’.
“The Greener Farms Commitment (GFC) is being designed around the first core principle of assurance – to find a common approach which limits the number of demands on farmers,” she said.
“To achieve something which offers this, it was necessary to work with the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and its members to ensure their commitment. Throughout that process we have sought to represent and protect the interests of Red Tractor farmers, which is why our preparatory work last year included trials with twenty-five farms, for example.
“In turn, those customer stakeholders have made it very clear how urgent this is. There is a risk they will use alternative, possibly global standards, which will not differentiate British produce from overseas. In some sectors we can already see sustainability marks being required which are adding cost and complexity for farmers.”
She added that involving farmers in the continued development of the GFC is ‘absolutely essential’. “Last week saw our Technical Advisory Committees discuss the GFC across every sector as part of that work. The process is already giving us a huge amount of valuable feedback. Strong views are being shared on the approach and those conversations continue,” she said.