Red Tractor has announced it will not proceed with its Green Farms Commitment until the NFU has completed its independent review of the assurance body’s governance.
Red Tractor announced in early October, with enthusiastic backing from the British Retail Consortium and four major retailers, that it intended to introduce the voluntary scheme from April 2024 to provide assurance to consumers over the environmental credentials of the farms producing their food.
But the announcement provoked a huge backlash among farmers across the sectors, amid widespread anger that the scheme had been developed, so far, without consultation with farmers. Farmers were also concerned that it wasn’t clear where the financial burden for the extra work required under the new green scheme would fall.
After a ‘passionate’ discussion at the NFU’s latest council meeting earlier this month, the NFU announced last week that it would be carrying out two reviews, one into the governance of Red Tractor and, more widely, a longer-term review aimed at ‘revolutionising’ farm to fork assurance.
Red Tractor’s Main (AFS) Board met last week and confirmed its complete support for both reviews. The organisation said it would cooperate fully to ensure openness and pace and will not progress with the implementation of any new standards or additional modules until the first NFU independent review, focusing on Red Tractor governance, is completed.
Strength of feeling
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.”
She said the conversations would continue with Red Tractor’s 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,” she said.
“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.”
An NFU spokesperson said: “This is welcome news – it’s what NFU members and NFU Council have asked for.
“The hard work to get these reviews underway has already begun. Our immediate focus is getting the first review up and running, with the second review into UK food assurance to follow.”