End of the road for the Red Tractor scheme?

Farmers are being asked to promote quality food by investing in a single food logo which would replace a plethora of quality marks across all food types.

The consultation is being conducted by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) – the umbrella organisation which represents levy-paying farmers across six agricultural sectors.

AHDB believes a single scheme funded by levy payers would benefit producers because consumers are confused by too many food logos.

It favours buying into the existing Red Tractor logo, which already appears on £7.5bn of British food and drink. Feedback

Levy investment in the Red Tractor would require DEFRA to approve scheme standards, but preliminary feedback indicates this is likely to be achieved.

Assured Food Standards (AFS), which oversees the logo and the NFU are also in favour of investing in the scheme.

What are the options?

If farmers agree a single scheme is a good idea, then they must choose between investing in the Red Tractor or setting up a new scheme.

But setting up a new scheme is seen as an expensive non-starter when the tractor logo is already up and running.

AHDB is also asking whether farmers would be prepared to invest additional sums, above a baseline investment, if they considered that additional promotional activity of their products or market sector would be beneficial.

Those who support the adoption of the Red Tractor believe a single brand across all sectors will give farmers “more bang for their bucks”.

So would there really be any benefit?

A more consistent consumer message will have more impact than the current plethora of different logos and quality marks, claims AFS.

The end goal is to get shoppers to look for the Red Tractor and secure markets for assured producers, it adds.

But the red meat sector already has its own logos for beef, lamb and pork. What would happen to them?

This is one of the most controversial aspects of the consultation. If a single scheme is the favoured option, then it is likely that existing marks used by BPEX and EBLEX to promote quality beef, lamb and pork will be replaced.

The National Beef Association is against the idea of using levy money to support the Red Tractor, arguing that doing so would dilute the impact of the Beef Quality Standard Mark in which it has already invested a lot of money.

Sugar beet and poultry producers don’t pay a levy but the Red Tractor logo appears on sugar and poultry products. Will they still be allowed to use it?

All sectors using the Red Tractor logo have contributed to its running costs on a proportionate basis since the scheme launched in 2000. AFS says this principle should continue, which suggests non-levy paying sectors could still use the logo if they paid to do so.

The Red Tractor denotes British farm standards. Won’t English farmers be funding a logo that can also be used by Scottish and Welsh producers?

It is true that Scottish and Welsh meat producers are able to use the Red Tractor logo even though they have their own promotional mark, but the NFU does not consider this to be a reason not to support the Red Tractor.

The reason is because Scotland and Wales have Protected Geographical Indicator (PGI) status, which means meat from animals born and raised there be marketed as Scotch or Welsh – and this is the preferred marketing route in those countries.

This means there is little scope for English levy funds being used to benefit Welsh and Scottish producers, says AHDB.

What are the implications of using levy money to fund a quality scheme?

European rules mean strict guidelines must be observed by all parties participating in any scheme funded through a levy.

These guidelines dictate that the primary message of any logo must be based on food quality, rather than country of origin.

These rules will apply to anyone using the logo, whether they pay to use it through a levy or through a different form of investment or licensing agreement.

It means European approval will be needed before any products can be promoted using the logo.

Do any sectors stand to benefit more than others? Which ones and how?

The case for some sectors, such as red meat, is stronger than others, says AHDB.

But the proposals are flexible, it adds. This means different sectors will be able to invest different amounts of money depending on the objectives they wish to achieve.

What will happen to the Red Tractor if we don’t invest in it?

Without continued funding, support for the Red Tractor and its on-pack presence may decline. This could ultimately result in the loss of what supporters say has proved to be a successful cross-sector quality scheme for the farming industry.

What do the supermarkets think about all this?

“Supermarkets are continually telling us that there are too many logos,” says the NFU’s Lee Woodger.

Retailers would like fewer quality marks, he adds, indicating that they would prefer the Red Tractor as a single reference point for customers.

How much money are we talking about? Will it mean an increase in levies?

Assuming Red Tractor investment gets the go-ahead, up to £500,000 will be needed to help promote its uptake and build awareness among consumers.

But the consultation is about diverting existing funds, rather than increasing levies.

The NFU estimates that the level of investment requested by AHDB is equivalent to about 1.25% of total levy income – an amount it says represents “excellent value for money” to promote industry standards.

Processors also pay a levy – will they be investing in the logo too?

Yes. Existing levies already paid by processors go into a single pot and any investment in a single scheme would include this contribution, says the NFU.

Where can I find out more?

The full consultation document can be downloaded from the AHDB website. But hurry, because the consultation closes on Friday 31 October.

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