Red Tractor axes green farming standard amid farmer backlash

Red Tractor is axing its plans to launch a green farming standard in April this year, amid a backlash from farmers.

The voluntary standard had initially been designed so that farmers could show retailers the moves they are making to protect the environment.

However, farming bodies the NFU, NFU Cyrmru, NFS Scotland, Ulster Farmer’s Union and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Boad (ADHB) all called for the green standard to be pulled.

In a collective statement, they said that – while supporting the broad objectives underpinning Red Tractor – they “strongly recommend” the GFC should not go ahead.

Farmers were concerned the GFC had gone too far and that its introduction failed to follow a proper consultancy process. They also argued it would eventually mean they would be forced to meet the green standard to get market access and would have to pay to meet sustainability targets on behalf of retailers.

Dropping the Greener Farms Commitment (GFC) is a blow for Red Tractor, after it cost the British food assurance body nearly £300,000 to develop.

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Red Tractor is at risk of an “existential crisis” if trust is not rebuilt, according to one consultant, following a review or its governance.

Plans for the GFC to be rolled out across the UK were originally announced last year.

Red Tractor has now said the GFC will not be launched on 1 April, as previously planned. The assurance body said it will be discussing its next steps at a board meeting later this month.

It has not ruled out introducing a green standard in future but said it woud reveal details of its future plans after the board meeting.

Red Tractor chair Christine Tacon told BBC Radio 4: “When we move forward with it again – and I’m not saying ‘if’, it is a ‘when’ – we’re doing it with the support and in a way that everyone is happy with so we do get to the right answer in the end.”

Joe Stanley, a Leicestershire farmer. said announcing the GFC as a voluntary bolt-on without undertaking a full consultation was misguided.

“What it was asking farmers to do at the behest of the retailers was to help them meet their own sustainability targets without paying for it, and then subsidise their shareholder returns,” he said.

“Fundamentally farmers are not being paid enough for the food they produce and it’s unsustainable. We do not have the money to invest in sustainability.”

Last month, thousands of Welsh farmers took part in a demonstration outside the Welsh parliament objecting to new farm subsidy proposals for Wales.

In October last year, Tesco farmers agreed to plant more crops this year, amid fears about the impact of climate change on the harvest.

Food and farmingNature and the environmentNewsPolicySocial sustainability

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