Red Tractor has failed farmers. It’s time to take premium English products to the global marketplace in the same way as Scotch Beef and Welsh Lamb, says Norman Bagley, head of policy at the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS).
As reported in the media last week, a prominent member (chairwoman, no less) of the Assured Food Standards (AFS) board, the body which owns and operates Red Tractor, broke cover in the House of Lords and voted against amendments to the Agriculture Bill intended to protect British farmers from post-Brexit imports produced to lower standards.
She is, of course, perfectly entitled to have such views, but as chairwoman it only served to confirm her support for Red Tractor was less than wholehearted.
Before anyone accuses me of being Captain Hindsight, I would point out that I and the chair of AIMS met Baroness Neville-Rolfe just after she took up the post, where she invited us to give our views as what the problems were at RT and what needed to change.
It was obvious from her reaction that she wasn’t up for the challenge in any meaningful way.
It was a case of a bit of kudos and not much more.
Given her previous prominent role at Tesco, perhaps this should’ve sounded an alarm about her real allegiances.
Retailers rather than farmers might be one way of putting it, but I prefer my recent social media description of ‘Tesco’s Moll’.
Being allowed to leave on her own terms, rather than with a kick up the backside from the thousands of Red Tractor farmers she has so badly let down, completes the sad episode.
For the record, I entirely support the Red Tractor Standard on farm.
It provides a reasonable level of assurance, environmental protections and audited standards which are above the UK baseline legal requirements, however unambitious that may be.
But my support for the Red Tractor, ends at the farm gate. Why?
Put quite simply, in its 20 years, Red Tractor has failed to fully embrace the whole of the market opportunity for all farms and farmers who produce to their standards.
If I were a farmer, I think I would feel somewhat betrayed by such lack of ambition.
So, what has this got to do with Brexit? Quite a lot actually.
With the UK’s final exit from the EU now just weeks away, the time is more opportune than ever before to unlock the value of British livestock farming through a standard which promotes the premium quality of English Beef, Lamb and Pork domestically and overseas and which has presence in both retail and foodservice channels.
With Red Tractor meat and poultry failing to be of any meaningful relevance in any market other than as a pre-pack in UK multiple retailers, now is the time to turbo charge the Quality Standard Mark and its attributes for eating quality.
And, in the way the Scots have done with Scotch Beef and the Welsh with Welsh Lamb, take a premium English product into the global marketplace.
But don’t stop at QSM English Beef and QSM English Lamb, let’s add QSM English Pork and a clear brand for British Halal Lamb.
And maybe in time, work with the poultry industry on QSM Chicken too.
As regards British Halal Lamb, we must face facts. The UK produces more lamb than it consumes.
Domestically, the only real area of consumption growth for lamb is as Halal.
The UK’s lamb production system of lush pasture and abundant rain, along with the environmental benefits, all place lamb as a truly natural product which when marketed well will attract not just the traditional enthusiasts, but have universal appeal to Muslim consumers across the world.
Now is the time for a grown-up approach to Halal and to stop the histrionics which sometimes in some parts of society have been allowed to go unchallenged.
But finally, let us return to Baroness Neville-Rolfe.
She came and went and left little behind of note for her efforts, a real disappointment for farmers and the livestock industry.
Cosy appointments have been all the rage for years, but surely now is the time for proper leadership if the future of farming and meat production is to prosper.
Anyone up for the challenge?
Norman can be found tweeting at @normanbagley1