Red Tractor chairman Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe has today called on the farming community to send a firm signal to consumers that British-farmed produce is a hallmark for high standards.
During this period of uncertainty faced by UK farming she said that “the overriding priority must be to reinforce our leadership position for exceptional quality”.
Speaking at Agribusiness 2020 in Peterborough Baroness Neville-Rolfe outlined how the current political landscape with Brexit and the upcoming general election will herald major changes for British food and agriculture.
Baroness Neville-Rolfe said: “This is a time of huge uncertainly. We have election manifestos still to be published, Brexit, a new way of providing farming support, changing consumption patterns, a digital revolution and the challenge of climate change.
“We’ve already seen the Environment Bill pass its second reading and the Agriculture Bill is moving into report stage. With both, the government has strongly signalled an increased focus on the environment and animal welfare of which we must take careful note. I believe this is the direction of travel for both of the main parties.
“But at the same time commercial pressures require British agriculture to maximise productivity and improve profitability, while also being accountable to the public.”
Approximately 75% of UK agricultural output is Red Tractor-assured, meaning the organisation annually assures £14 billion of British produced food and drink.
Baroness Neville-Rolfe said: “Red Tractor goes beyond the basic and produces food that is traceable, safe and farmed with care and meets the specifications of the multiple retailers and food service operators.
“We need the NFU to continue to insist on similar standards for imports. And we need to work with a new government to encourage public procurers of food in our hospitals, schools and prisons to buy from Red Tractor-assured sources as well.
“Standing still isn’t an option. We need to unlock new market opportunities for Red Tractor to increase our footprint.”
Earlier this year beef exports resumed to China after a 20-year absence, and with the acceleration of approvals for UK exports of pig trotters, it is expected to open up a market to be worth up to £18 million year.
She added: “I know from my experience in China and South East Asia how well our standards are viewed, because in those countries they have a serious problem with consistency and transparency of food safety.
“Red Tractor Assurance has enabled us to unlock key export markets. In negotiating any new trade deals the next government needs to remember that one of the strongest assets we have in the UK is our food and farming standards.”
Baroness Neville-Rolfe added that food safety statistics reinforced the huge role Red Tractor can offer customers at home and abroad.
“Figures from the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention show that 17% of people in the USA suffer from food-borne illnesses each year compared with just 1.5% in the UK,” she said.
Baroness Neville Rolfe concluded: “Red Tractor has helped us keep British food safe and traceable for 20 years. Our evolving standards can help us to deal with the next 20.
“If you’re a farmer and not signed up to Red Tractor, please sign up. Let’s continue to work together, to ensure our industry remains fit for purpose and competitive in an ever more challenging environment.”