Defra Secretary Michael Gove has unveiled his ideas for a new ‘world leading’ food labelling system to measure farm and food quality, with a focus on animal welfare.
While there were a number of ways in which farmers could secure recognition for high animal welfare or environmental standards from the Red Tractor scheme to the LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) mark, a new, single scheme could be a ‘gold-standard’ metric for food and farming quality outside the EU.
“There is still no single, scaled, measure of how a farmer or food producer performs against a sensible basket of indicators, taking into account such things as soil health, control of pollution, contribution to water quality as well as animal welfare,” said Mr Gove.
“We have been in discussion with a number of farmers and food producers about how we might advance such a scheme and I think that, outside the EU, we could establish a measure of farm and food quality which would be world-leading.”
LEAF and Red Tractor Assurance said they were keen to work with the Government in driving forward high production standards which could be become a valuable marketing tool when securing new markets at home and abroad.
He echoed the comments at the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC), giving reassurance to those concerned about lower food standards in future trade deals.
Mr Gove said the Government would not be using food trade as a ‘Trojan horse’ but instead use Brexit as an opportunity to enhance the nation’s outstanding reputation on animal welfare.
He said: “The future of food production is in quality, in provenance and traceability.
“The future for British food production is not a race to the bottom but is competing at the top of the value chain.
“I want to make sure we maintain the very, very highest standards because that is what the public would expect and it also contributes to ethical sustainable agriculture.”
RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles welcomed Mr Gove’s ambitions, adding research had shown consumers were concerned about the provenance of their food, but it was currently too easy for ’clever labels to cloud the real truth behind how that animal was reared’.
The charity said it agreed with Mr Gove’s suggestion to target farm subsidies at improving standards as part of a new agricultural scheme.
“If post-Brexit farm support schemes include ring-fenced incentives for farmers to improve animal welfare, the government’s laudable ambitions for the UK to produce the highest quality food will be met,” Mr Bowles told the ORFC.
Red Tractor chief executive Jim Moseley added: "The quality of British food and its high production standards are two of the industry’s core strengths. Red Tractor Assurance and its logo provide the perfect vehicle for communicating this message at home and abroad.
"We welcome Mr Gove’s praise of the Red Tractor scheme and look forward to maximising the opportunities that Brexit provides for our members.”
LEAF chief executive Caroline Drummond said she agreed their needed to be some ‘high level metrics’ for benchmarking farm assurance standards and LEAF had been working ‘extensively’ in this area.
“We know LEAF Marque delivers well for the environment and in particular soil health, pollution control and water quality as well as biodiversity and community engagement.
"These are extremely important for the delivery of more sustainable agriculture and the demonstration of Britain’s commitment and drive for food and farming quality.
“LEAF is engaged with a significant number of farmers both in the UK and worldwide and our recent developments increasingly demonstrate what a wonderful opportunity there is for us to trade at a global level.”