The time is right for a joint review to determine whether current assurance schemes are fit for purpose, say farming organisations

NFU president Minette Batters

NFU president Minette Batters

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) have announced the next steps for a jointly run independent review of farm to fork assurance.

Both organisations believe now is the right time to conduct a robust and transparent review to ensure assurance schemes are fit for purpose in the modern farming environment, for both their members and for home and international markets.

The review, which will seek to capture views from across the whole industry, including farmers, growers, merchants and processors, will examine:

  • How farm assurance can deliver value back to scheme members.
  • How standards are developed to meet the evolving needs of members, the markets they serve, sector diversity and in appreciation of the global marketplace.
  • How assurance members are engaged with (including the development of standards), inspected and how technology is used in assurance now and in future.
  • How assurance schemes can and should fit with regulation and government schemes to best serve members.

Inevitably Red Tractor will be considered as part of this process as it is the dominant assurance scheme in many key sectors, but this is only a part of the purpose of the review, which is focused on all areas of farm assurance.

Both the NFU and AHDB agree that, as it is almost 25 years since the creation of Red Tractor, there is a need to step back and ask some fundamental questions about all farm assurance schemes to ensure the needs of farmers are met.

The next steps include appointing an independent commission to oversee the review and ensure full transparency and the opportunity for farmers and industry to have their say. Further details will be announced in due course.

NFU President Minette Batters said: “The world is very different to the way it was when farm assurance schemes started in the UK some 25 years ago, not least thanks to huge changes in the way food is produced, coupled with increased interest from consumers about where their food comes from.

“It’s time for change. Farmers and growers don’t feel that many schemes currently work for them. This review will see us go back to basics to look at the future of assurance and I would encourage the entire industry to positively engage with it.

“Food safety, branding, provenance, differing sector needs and sustainability are just some areas that farm assurance is trying to address. It is right to ask how these areas can be delivered without giving away value from the farm gate.”

AHDB chair Nicholas Saphir said: “We are consistent in stating that it is vital that the reputation of levy payers’ produce is maintained by assurance and where relevant, audits, to underpin the work we do on behalf of the industry in regard to promotion in the home and export markets.

“This independent evidence-based review will allow us all to understand and address the future needs and opportunities that assurance has to play for the successful future of our industry.