To celebrate Red Tractor Week, Farming Minister George Eustice writes exclusively for Farmers Guardian about farm standards.
The launch of the Red Tractor Farm Standard in 2000 was a ground breaking initiative and an early example of how industry led accreditation schemes can make a real difference to consumer confidence.
During the 1990s British agriculture had taken a battering with the BSE crisis and other high profile food scares which dented consumer confidence at home and closed markets abroad.
Despite being a fragmented industry, farmers pulled together to launch the Red Tractor to promote a British Standard in food production that went above and beyond the regulatory base and was a kite mark for good practice.
There were sceptics at the time and, of course, arcane arguments about EU law on procurement and marketing law were never far away. However, the organisers successfully navigated their way through all these countervailing forces and persevered to make it happen.
It has since become an almost universal scheme that has raised standards throughout the supply chain.
More recently, confidence in the scheme and the farmers that are signed up to it means that we, in Defra, have been able to recognise it as an indicator of compliance with legal requirements and to incorporate "earned recognition" into our inspection regime in many areas. So farmers have not only benefited from higher consumer confidence, but slightly lower levels of inspection.
When the NFU carried out an analysis on enforcement for Defra a couple of years ago, one of the things to emerge from the survey work was that, although there are regular, annual inspections by Red Tractor, these were less stressful than inspections to enforce EU law.
There was a sense that the inspectors were partners who were helping farmers to constantly improve and refine their operation rather than seeking to find error and level penalties. As we leave the EU and seek to change the regulatory culture in the UK, we can learn from that.
In recent years other schemes have followed in the path Red Tractor established for quality assurance.
Red Tractor week is an excellent opportunity to thank Red Tractor for all they’ve done to maintain and enhance our food industry’s reputation for excellence.