FW Opinion: Food standards chief right to quit Red Tractor

Trust is fundamental when it comes to the food we eat. In fact, it’s the whole basis of the Red Tractor assurance scheme – which guarantees that food is produced to high standards across the entire length of the supply chain – from farm to fork.

Producers have spent 20 years jumping through hoops to be part of this scheme. They wade through mountains of paperwork and endure countless inspections so consumers can “Trust the Tractor” logo that appears on £14bn of British food and drink.

Understandably then, British farmers are rightly proud of their high food standards. And they were understandably outraged too when it emerged that the chairman of the Red Tractor scheme had voted against measures designed to protect these standards by keeping shoddy food imports out of the country.

In doing so, Lucy Neville-Rolfe appeared to be voting against the very standards she was expected to uphold. She denies that was the case – vehemently so – but her position quickly became untenable and she will now stand down from her job.

See also: Farmers Weekly Podcast Episode 30: Farmer anger at Red Tractor chair vote

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Johann Tasker
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It is, of course, the right decision to quit – although many farmers believe that Baroness Neville-Rolfe should have resigned immediately. Instead, she will leave the organisation on 12 November rather than seeking a second term as Red Tractor chairman.

Really, though, there is no excuse. Farm leaders have long warned that British farmers would be driven out of business by imports of cheap food produced using methods that are illegal in the UK – including shipments of hormone-treated beef and chlorine-washed chicken.

A Conservative peer in the House of Lords, Baroness Neville-Rolfe insists that she continues to support high food and farming standards – arguing that they benefit consumers and manufacturers, as well as growers and livestock producers.

She says she voted against measures to protect British farmers because the government needs “maximum flexibility” to “obtain the best overall deal for the country as a whole” when negotiating trade agreements with other countries.

The baroness insists her votes in parliament were based on this “appreciation of the realities”. If so, she should have abstained from voting completely, rather than voting against the measures – and by implication voting against British farmers.

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