Thoughts on stepping down from the Red Tractor board

Mike Sheldon is due to step down as chairman of Red Tractor Pigs in November. He also chairs the AHDB Pork board

Shortly, I will complete my six-year term as a director of AFS and the chairman of Red Tractor Pigs. So, what are my thoughts as I hand over the baton to my successor? I ask myself a number of key questions.

Sheldon, MikeAre Red Tractor standards great? I think they are in that they provide an answer to most important things consumers are interested in when it comes to food.

Is it safe? Is it what it says it is? Do I know where it has come from? Have animals been well treated? Are the animals healthy? Are medicines, chemicals, herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers properly used? Is land, water and air properly protected?

The reality is that the range, scope and rigour of Red Tractor standards are un- matched anywhere in the world. Producers should be proud of that.

Are Red Tractor standards great enough? It is a simple fact that Red Tractor standards will never be perfect. There will always be new knowledge, changes in consumer choices, pressure on the mainstream from the edges and competition. So the challenge is to make changes to the standards that are judicious, rational, evidence-based and affordable on the one hand, but prompt, ambitious and convincing on the other.

Is the enforcement of Red Tractor standards rigorous? No other pig standard has four vet visits a year, plus a fifth visit by an independent, accredited assessor, so yes.

Is the enforcement of Red Tractor standards rigorous enough? Until every member is complying with every standard, every day, then the answer is ‘not yet’. The ultimate goal should be for every producer to be audit-ready every day, and to have zero non-conformances. Is that achievable? It is going to be hard, but that is where we need to aim.

Are consumers persuaded by Red Tractor? The challenge for any logo-owner is to compete for space and recognition in a crowded and noisy world, and the challenge for Red Tractor is no different. Recognition of Red Tractor is very good, compared to any other comparable logo. Understanding of Red Tractor is very good, actually, given how complex the message is. Consumers get that it is about traceability, animal welfare and the environment.

Nevertheless, there is a massive challenge to drive that under- standing further and faster. That requires good quality materials and activities, but also significant investment, and that will be a challenge I leave with producers and licensees in all sectors.

Any director stepping down at the end of a fixed term is likely to leave with a sense of unfinished business. That is certainly true in my case. I wish I could have gone further and faster.

Nevertheless, I think Red Tractor is something fantastic, one of the best pound-for-pound investments any producer could make. Over to my successor.

NB: All views expressed here are my personal views.

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