Farm leader Peter Kendall has warned that the industry must work harder to explain itself after two TV programmes criticising British agriculture.
His comments follow a Panorama programme on Monday (5 May) that highlighted loopholes allowing non-farmers to claim agricultural subsidies.
A day earlier, an episode of the BBC Countryfile programme highlighted differences in the standards of food labelling schemes.
Mr Kendalll described Countryfile’s comparison of the Soil Association’s organic label with the British farm standard Red Tractor logo as “just a bit bizarre”.
He told Farmers Weekly: “It is a bit of a shame when there are people on limited budgets who can’t afford to pay a premium but still want some basic assurance of traceability and standards that are independently checked.”
Asked whether the NFU would be taking action over the Countryfile programme, Mr Kendall said he did not want to get into a battle.
But he asked: “Were they deliberately comparing apples and pears or were they challenging the industry to work harder in communicating their messages?”
Mr Kendall said he wasn’t going to come down on one side or the other, although he knew many farmers believed it was the former.
He added: “We need to keep talking.We know we need to work harder to keep selling our messages about what Red Tractor standards mean for consumers.”
Standards met by farmers in the UK were very different to those in Europe and the rest of the world, Mr Kendall said.
This shows those standards are being met. I would describe the Red Tractor as very much mid table – it isn’t trying to be a top-of-the-range elite product.”
Shoppers wanted some ground-level assurance about the food they purchased and the Red Tractor delivered this.
Turning to the Panorama episode, Mr Kendall suggested the programme’s producers were working to their own agenda.
“We spent 20 minutes with them,” said Mr Kendall, who was interviewed and appeared on the programme.
“The bulk of it was about the need to have an agricultural sector that was more competitive, to get away from dependency on support.
Mr Kendall said his interviewer repeatedly went on about the amount of subsidies received by the Queen and the Duke of Westminister.
“I could not get them to move away from it and that was a disappointment,” he told Farmers Weekly.
“My view was that it was agricultural support and there are imperfections in agricultural support however you choose to do it.”
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