Can farmers trust Red Tractor to deliver its new green scheme? So ran the headline of this week’s Wednesday analysis. Two days later and we can report that, following continued (and intensive) criticism from farmers, the retailer-backed Greener Farms Commitment has been halted.
Producers were peeved that the new environment module had been developed without seeking their views. Now the NFU Council has started a critical review to examine the governance of Red Tractor. A second review will look more widely at farm assurance. “It’s time for that to happen, so we can look at what works and what doesn’t, and to make sure assurance is fit for purpose in the years ahead,” said NFU president Minette Batters. Red Tractor chair Christine Tacon said the frustration from farmers “runs deeper than just our proposals for an environment module”.
Red Tractor’s scheme certainly smacked of supermarkets exerting greater control over the means of production. There are of course similar concerns regarding the regenerative agriculture movement. The development of a new global framework produced by SAI Platform and leading FMCGs including Nestlé, Danone and PepsiCo – ‘Regenerating Together’ – will do little to assuage critics’ fears that corporates see the whole thing as little more than marketing tool.
The platform, which is billed as a collaboration with farmers, academia, NGOs and big businesses, promises to deliver “measurable outcomes in the agriculture sector”. It is also aimed at reducing confusion, replication (and, in theory, greenwashing) of regenerartive approaches by aligning everything from the definition and impact areas to the metrics and outcomes.
Some guardrails are needed, but who decides what they are and where they apply is contentious. True regeneration must span farmer wellbeing and profitability too. As more than one presenter at a recent food systems summit in Amsterdam warned: farmers can’t be expected to “go green if they’re in the red” (more to come on that in next Wednesday’s bulletin).
Egg farmers are among those deeper into the red than most these days, and the government has finally decided to step in (or rather dip a toe in). A review focused on ending unfair practices in the egg supply chain has been launched. Both the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) and the British Egg Industry Council welcomed the consultation focusing on contractual fairness and transparency. This review is “needed to provide further stability for the sector and to ensure that there is no repeat of egg shortages in the future”, said BFREPA CEO Robert Gooch.
Tight supplies of UK eggs has led to greater volumes of imports and an increased safety risk to consumers, according to a report on Poultry News this week. Foodservice wholesalers in particular are relying on imported eggs. The Food Standards Agency has been investigating and responding to outbreaks of separate strains of Salmonella Enteritidis linked to Polish eggs and poultry products. The FSA said that one outbreak serotype is being linked to 47 confirmed cases in the UK of which “25 were linked to a single restaurant and 18 further cases had probable restaurant exposure”.
Sticking with chickens is news that campaigners are “considering” taking the government to court regarding its failure to tackle agricultural pollution. Defra has reportedly confirmed that its plan to tackle diffuse water pollution on the river Wye, for example, will not be signed off before 2024/25. The Wye is a focus for the group Fish Legal, which has previously challenged permissions for new poultry units to be set up within the catchment area.
Last month the High Court granted River Action, an environmental group, consent to pursue judicial review into the Environment Agency’s failure to protect the river from agricultural pollution. In a statement, the group cited a study by Lancaster University which found the soils of the Wye to be “significantly over-saturated with phosphorus, with 60-70% of the 3,000 tonnes of which enter the river every year coming from agriculture. The most significant contributor to this is widely known to be the rapid recent growth of the region’s intensive poultry industry.”
One solution to intensive poultry production is to make the meat intensively from cells, which is the subject of one of our other three stories this week. There is also news of Diageo’s regenerative farming plans, and a new study detailing a bold move to reduce meat consumption.