Four farming unions to oversee wider Red Tractor review

A wide-ranging review into Red Tractor and the farm assurance network will now be overseen by all four main UK farming unions.

The second, broader review of Red Tractor and the UK’s industry-wide farm assurance network was originally due to be overseen by the AHDB and the NFU.

But the AHDB has now confirmed that the review will be jointly commissioned by the AHDB, NFU, NFU Cymru, NFU Scotland and the Ulster Farmers’ Union, which will all form part of the Assurance Review steering group, which has overall responsibility for its delivery.

See also: Farm bodies move to kill off Red Tractor green module

“The NFU and the AHDB were the ones who originally decided we needed to carry out this review,” said an industry source. “But the other farming unions have now agreed that this is the right thing to do and they are officially part of the process.”

The group is in the process of appointing an independent panel of commissioners, who will be responsible for setting the terms of reference and a timeline to ensure the process provides a clear outcome for the industry.

Four commissioners

Three of the four commissioners have been appointed. The lead commissioner is David Llewellyn, who is former vice-chancellor of Harper Adams University.

Dr Llewellyn said he and fellow commissioners looked forward to getting the review under way to “engage with the industry to see how the assurance system can meet the future needs of food producers while underpinning our collective aim to continue, and further develop, the delivery of a high-quality UK food system”.

He added: “The commission’s work will include an exploration of best practice, consideration of how methods of assurance can provide value to primary producers in a fast-changing environment, and a review of the relationship between assurance and regulation.”

Dr Llewellyn will be joined by James Withers, former chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, and Mark Suthern, chairman of trustees of the Farming Community Network (FCN). A fourth commissioner will be confirmed in due course.

The industry-wide Assurance Review is focused on repurposing assurance in a post-Brexit world.

It aims to seek feedback from all farmers, crofters and growers about all farm assurance schemes with a view to revolutionising farm-to-fork assurance and making it truly fit for the future.

Farmer backlash

Two independent reviews into Red Tractor and its practices were announced following a fierce industry backlash in October over the introduction of its proposed Greener Farms Commitment (GFC) environmental module.

Red Tractor has paused development of the controversial voluntary module, which had been due to launch in April pending the outcome of both reviews. 

Farmers fear if the GFC is ever introduced it will force them into giving away their valuable natural capital data for free to the benefit of others in the supply chain, mainly the retailers. Earlier this month, the four main farming unions issued a statement calling for Red Tractor to scrap its plans for the GFC.

NFU president Tom Bradshaw has strongly rejected claims that the Red Tractor reviews will be a “whitewash”, insisting: “Judge us on the outcomes of the reviews.”

Early findings of review one into Red Tractor governance, overseen by consultant Campbell Tickell, found that the organisation’s processes and documentation in place are “largely sound”.

What review two will examine

  • How farm assurance can deliver value back to scheme members
  • How standards are developed to meet the evolving needs of members, the markets they serve, sector diversity and an appreciation of the global marketplace
  • How assurance members are engaged with (including the development of standards), inspected and how technology is used in assurance now and in the future
  • How assurance schemes can and should fit with regulation and government schemes to best serve members
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