7 April 2000

NFUwants kitemark to

replace other schemes

By Johann Tasker

THE NFU is set to hand over control of its new British Farm Standard kitemark to Assured British Meat (ABM) in a controversial deal with the company which oversees many of Britains farm assurance schemes.

Ultimately, the aim is to replace all existing assurance marks with the NFUs all-embracing red, white and blue tractor kitemark. Under the proposals, ABM will be renamed, provisionally as Assured Food. Its remit will be extended to cover primary produce from all farm sectors rather than just livestock.

After its launch last week by Prime Minister Tony Blair, the NFU kitemark immediately won supermarket backing from Asda, Safeway, Sainsbury and Tesco. But it received a frosty reception from farmers, despite an NFU survey claiming it will convince 60% of consumers to buy the food on which it features.

Existing assurance schemes gave a mixed reaction to the NFU-ABM proposals which could see their kitemarks phased out. The Assured Combinable Crops Scheme, which is chaired by the NFUs Jonathan Tipples, embraced the move. But Scottish and Welsh farmers, whose strongly branded Scotch beef and Welsh lamb have proved a success with consumers, said they opposed the plans.

Brian Simpson, chief executive of the Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb Association, said £ millions had been spent developing the Specially Selected Scotch brand used in 2000 supermarkets and 800 butchers shops. "Our research has shown that our brand is clearly identified by consumers and that they are prepared to pay a premium for the products. There is no particular need for ABM in Scotland."

Don Thomas, managing director of Welsh Lamb and Beef Promotions, said his company would refuse to use the NFU kitemark. Any logo which included the word British was weakened by Britains association with BSE, he added. "We would certainly not undermine our own brands with an unknown logo, not unless we had overwhelming evidence that it would add to consumer appeal."

The NFU denied its kitemark would mean the immediate end of regional branding, saying it would be used initially alongside existing marks. Helen Lo, NFU head of food and marketing, said: "Were not trying to take anything away from regional branding. Various counties and regions have their own strengths and were trying to give farmers and growers a single identity for all their hard work."

David Clarke, ABM chief executive, said the NFU kitemark would link all farm assurance schemes and promote one message to consumers. But it was too early to say whether other marks would fall by the wayside. "Things will evolve although exactly how is difficult to know. The main driving force is consolidation but exactly how quickly that will happen remains to be seen."

Proposals to adopt the NFU kitemark and extend AMBs remit to all farm sectors have been agreed in principle by the companys directors, said Mr Clarke. The plans will now be put before shareholders within the next few weeks.