FSA Press Release (2002/0235), 9 July 2002
Food Assurance schemes need to be radically reformed if they are to deliver consumer benefits and improve consumer confidence, according to a review published by the Food Standards Agency today. The review was commissioned in 2001 and follows consumer concern in research carried out by the Agency.
The Food Standards Agency is recommending a new, independent organisation to administer Red Tractor schemes. The governing body should have consumer representation, consult openly and widely on its policies and be independently chaired.
The Agency also says that it is necessary to establish core minimum standards for all Food Assurance schemes and a consistent approach to providing information about schemes. All Food Assurance schemes are currently run by producers and retailers with widely differing standards of disclosure and transparency.
Food Assurance schemes cover between 65% and 85% of food production but the confusion surrounding them makes it difficult for consumers to make informed choices about the food they are buying. The Agency says that action is needed to ensure greater transparency and that the needs of consumers are given equal importance to those of producers and retailers.
Sir John Krebs, Chair of the Food Standards Agency said:
'Assurance schemes such as the Red Tractor are potentially a force for good, driving up production standards and expanding choice, but they need a shake-up.Most people are thoroughly confused about assurance schemes. The number of different schemes and their various logos adds to the confusion. For example, consumers are not sure whether the Red Tractor logo is to do with country of origin, better standards of production, or better quality food.
'Schemes need to be independent if they are to improve consumer confidence. To their credit, industry has begun to take steps to improve the situation, and this is welcome, but further action needs to be taken to redress the balance. The creation of a new, independent governing body for Red Tractor schemes, along with measures to improve transparency and consistency across the board are essential to meet the needs of the consumer.'
The Agency's three key recommendations for the future development of Food Assurance schemes are:
There are more than 20 Food Assurance schemes in existence in the UK. The schemes are voluntary and have been developed by industry and retailers to establish production standards for a wide range of foods. They cover areas that are considered important by consumers such as food safety, environmental protection, animal welfare.
The review criticised terms such as 'quality' and 'high standards' when used by schemes as adding to consumer confusion by being unquantified and ambiguous. The British Farm Standard Red Tractor logo is an example. Research shows that people wrongly assume the red tractor logo indicates a British product, but the logo can also be used on produce sourced from outside the UK.
The review found that a number of consumer benefits can be delivered by schemes.
These include: increased independent inspection along the whole food chain,
more consumer choice, and potentially raised hygiene standards. Schemes have
the ability to contribute to further improvements in production standards and
to further extend consumer choice.
Comments on the review and Agency recommendations are invited from all interested parties, and the Agency will host a meeting with stakeholders in the autumn.
The full review is published on the FSA website www.food.gov.uk
The review covered 18 different Food Assurance schemes that between them have roughly 78,000 members. The schemes cover over 85% of production in milk, eggs, chicken, pork and combinable crop sectors and over 65% for beef, lamb and horticultural produce.
The Policy Commission on the Future of Food and Farming report January 2002 considered Food Assurance schemes and made a distinction between two different levels of schemes; either 'baseline' schemes aimed at increasing general standards of production or 'higher level' / 'premium' schemes that indicate specific environmental, welfare or organic benefits. The majority of 'baseline' schemes currently come under the umbrella of the British Farm Standard Red Tractor logo that is administered by Assured Food Standards.
Food Assurance schemes covered in the review are listed below; full details of the schemes can be found in Annex A of the FSA Review of Food Assurance Schemes. Links to the scheme websites can be found on the FSA website www.food.gov.uk
DETAILS OF ASSURANCE SCHEMES IN THE AGENCY REVIEW
Baseline schemes eligible to use the Red Tractor
1. AFS- Assured Food Standards
2. APS-Assured Produce Scheme (Hort)
3. ACCS-Assured Combinable Crops Scheme (Feed)
4. NDFAS-National Dairy Farmers Assurance Scheme (Milk)
5. ACP-Assured Chicken Production
6. ABP-Assured British Pigs
7. ABM-Assured British Meat and FABBL - Farm Assured British Beef and Lamb
8. FAWL-Farm Assured Welsh Livestock
9. NIBL FQAS - Northern Irish Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme.
10. Scottish Specially Selected Assurance Schemes- Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and Scottish Quality Cereals (SQC)
11. Genesis Quality Assurance Scheme (beef and lamb and combinable crops)
Other baseline schemes
12. Lion Quality Scheme(Eggs)
13. UFAS/FEMAS-UKASTA - Feed Assurance and Feed Material Assurance Schemes
14. Danish Bacon
Higher Level Assurance schemes
15. Freedom Foods
16. Organic schemes
17. Soil Association
18. LEAF - Linking Environment and Farming