The farmed food quality mark puts brakes on new environmental standards until NFU completes review of Red Tractor governance 

Red Tractor chair Christine Tacon

Red Tractor chair Christine Tacon

Assured Food Standards (AFS), which licenses farmed foods’ Red Tractor quality mark, announced yesterday (31 October) that it will not progress with the implementation of any new environmental standards or additional modules until the NFU has completed the first of two proposed independent reviews of Red Tractor governance.

Red Tractor’s board met last week and confirmed its complete support for both NFU reviews, and said it will cooperate fully to ensure openness and pace.  

AFS added that a separate, wider look at food chain assurance and its role within the supply chain is also welcome in an effort to make sure assurance is fit for purpose in the years ahead. 

The AFS’s announcement comes after the Council of the National Farmers’ Union expressed concerns about the delivery of Red Tractor’s new bolt-on environmental module, the Greener Farms Commitment (GFC).

While recognising and embracing the increasing role of sustainability in farm assurance, NFU council members said they felt that practical elements of the GFC should have been consulted on more widely before the module was unveiled last month.

Commenting on yesterday’s announcement to halt implementation of its GFC module, Red Tractor chair Christine Tacon said: “As the team have been working with our Technical Advisory Committees and Sector Boards on the detail of the Greener Farms Commitment (GFC), the strength of feeling from farmers across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has become clear to everyone.  

“It has been a difficult period across UK agriculture, which has brought forward frustration from farmers that runs deeper than just our proposals for an environment module. We recognise that and have decided that the NFU’s independent review of Red Tractor governance must come first. 

“There will be no decisions on the implementation or timing of the GFC or on other changes to existing Red Tractor Standards until that NFU review is complete. Any continuation of work on an environment module would need to include more detailed dialogue with farmers and supply chains and consider relevant government policy on agriculture for all UK nations. 

“The views of our members are very important, and we are sorry that we have been slow to understand them fully. The discussion that has been provoked is essential and offers a great opportunity for the farming sectors and supply chains to work together,” Tacon added.

“So, we expect these conversations to continue with our Technical Advisory Committees, Sector Boards, the new Development Advisory Panel and more widely. It is vital to talk more about the benefits of farm assurance overall, and the challenge of how to demonstrate progress on environmentally focused farming in each sector, for example.  

“We hope this approach will help the NFU to achieve its goal of completing the first review by the end of January 2024. In the meantime, we will continue to work to the Standards already in place and support consumer trust in the Red Tractor logo.”