The Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) has faced a farmer backlash on social media after it concluded there is no current end market demand for an alternative “gatekeeper protocol” to farm assurance schemes for domestic crops for food and feed.
More than a year ago, the AIC was asked by Red Tractor, the NFU and farmers to explore the potential for introducing an alternative assurance scheme for domestic crops destined for the UK food and feed agri-supply chain.
A group of farmers, headed by Staffordshire arable grower and The Farming Forum founder Clive Bailye, suggested that a UK protocol could offer an alternative assurance route for farmers who did not wish to use existing farm assurance schemes, such as Red Tractor.
Currently, to access feed mills certified under the AIC’s Universal Feed Assurance Scheme (UFAS), growers must be members of a farm assurance scheme recognised by the scheme, such as Red Tractor.
But the group of farmers argue it is unfair that domestic growers must be Red Tractor-assured to access the vast majority of UK feed mills – while no equivalent grower assurance scheme is required for grain imports.
The farmers are devising their own gatekeeper alternative to Red Tractor and similar schemes, which, if approved by industry, would allow domestic crops to enter UK feed mills on similar terms to grain imports.
Mr Bailye told Farmers Weekly: “Red Tractor is a self-declaration by a farmer, so if they [AIC] are saying that is good enough, farmers could instead make a post-harvest declaration on the grain passport to declare the crop has been grown to UK standards.
“It’s unfair that grain imports produced using chemicals that are banned in the UK, such as neonicotinoids and chlorothalonil, are allowed to enter UK feed mills under less strict rules, simply by farmers ticking a self-declaration box at the first point of collection.
“We believe that the current arrangements could be illegal under competition law. The only way we could determine this is to test it in court, which could cost £1m. This would require someone like the NFU to test this, which is unlikely.”
‘Additional costs’ – AIC
John Kelley, AIC chief operating officer and managing director of AIC Services, said: “While we understand that some farmers are keen to look for an alternative to existing farm assurance schemes, a consultation with our members of AIC committees, as well as some processors and end users, found no evidence of significant end user or processor demand for a UK gatekeeper protocol to be introduced at the current time.
“In addition, it was found that the implementation of a UK gatekeeper protocol would generate additional cost and administrative complexity to food and feed assurance, while offering no added value to the supply chain.”
Mr Kelley insisted that the current farm assurance schemes offered in the UK were “the most cost-effective way of ensuring feed and food safety for the agri-food supply chain at this time”.
Several farmers lashed out on Twitter over the results of the AIC’s consultation, accusing the trade association of breaking the law by giving imports of grain easier trading conditions than UK-produced crops.
Yorkshire grower Steve Ridsdale, an outspoken critic of Red Tractor and AIC’s UFAS, tweeted: “Not allowing a Red Tractor alternative based on cost makes you wonder why AIC allow gatekeeper for imports, as [the] same reasoning would apply.
“The real reason is the AIC want ‘free’ bells and whistles Red Tractor for their members, so they don’t have to pay extra for it, which a two-tier system would create.”
Farmer Christopher Huck described the situation as an “utter sham”.
Last November, Red Tractor chief executive Jim Moseley said non-assured growers should be allowed “like-for-like” access to UK feed grain mills.
Alternatives ‘will be considered’
But Mr Kelley stressed it was important that scheme providers continue to listen and adapt to market needs.
“The AIC will consider any alternative assurance scheme at the farm gate and further up the supply chain, should these be developed in the future,” he said.
“Procuring agri-inputs for UK farming remains the highest priority for AIC’s members, and while supply chains are becoming more complex following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is even more important that the UK has a safe and secure agri-food supply chain,” he concluded.
The AIC said it worked with the Crop Stakeholder Group and various AIC committees over the past 12 months to ensure that the view of the whole supply chain was acknowledged.
Some members have asked for further clarity around the Gatekeeper protocol and I would like to flag this statement and video from @AgindustriesUK
AIC | Assessment of introducing Gatekeeping assurance into the UK https://t.co/1hz9mjCFpu
— Tom Bradshaw (@ProagriLtd) May 25, 2022
· The AIC has released a Q&A on the consultation review and a video explanation with voiceover. For details visit www.agindustries.org.uk