British food producers critical of Red Tractor

The Red Tractor labelling scheme and the food-service sector's use of "British" food both came in for criticism from food producers at a launch event for the Government's "Year of British Food" celebrations on 27 April.

Produce: Red Tractor and Union Jack used on packaging - image: HW
Produce: Red Tractor and Union Jack used on packaging - image: HW

Bringing together the NFU, AHDB, Red Tractor and British Food Fortnight organiser Love British Food, the programme includes Red Tractor Week and a 12-week Red Tractor on-pack promotion across retailers and food-service operators.

But NFU deputy president Minette Batters said: "In food service the real concern is the word 'local' - they are almost abusing the word," while soft-fruit grower and NFU horticulture board member Anthony Snell added: "Catering and food service have huge potential but a very small percentage of British produce is used."

Love British Food founder Alexia Robertson said the number of food-service providers backing British Food Fortnight has fallen "because of price pressure". She added: "They say they support Red Tractor but how does Red Tractor get them to do more than just use it as a promotional label?"

Red Tractor chairman Jim Moseley said of the scheme, which brings together 60,000 farmers and 800 food business and food-service providers, that 65 per cent of shoppers recognise its logo, while it would make 58 per cent more likely to buy a product. But he admitted: "There is a lot of opportunity to do more. The logo is probably not valued as much as we would like."

He suggested that growers need to "produce what they (caterers) need" and added that he wants McDonalds to carry the logo on its potato products. "To do that we need to increase awareness of Red Tractor and make it almost a Kitemark for traceability and safety," he said.

AHDB chief communications and market development officer Christine Watts said the number of consumers supporting British produce is "disappointing", with price, quality and convenience remaining "dominant" factors.

Dairy farmer Michael Oates added: "The frustration with Red Tractor is I don't think the consumer knows what it means," adding that partnering a Red Tractor project last year had been "like trying to push water uphill".

Addressing the event, held at Farmers' & Fletchers' Hall in the City of London, Defra secretary Liz Truss said the £100bn UK food industry is being promoted abroad through a dedicated Great British Food Unit, while Defra is "working with supermarkets to encourage then to put Union Jacks on produce".

She added that Defra and AHDB have established the legal right to promote British-origin foods. "China and the US value the Union Jack," she said. "They see it as a symbol of quality, safety and heritage. Now we have the legal clearance so make sure everything we do has a Union Jack on."

The NFU, meanwhile, will be helping schools to integrate farming education into their harvest festivals with the addition of resources on the theme of "why the harvest matters".

Batters said she is working on a guide for shoppers "about clearer country-of-origin labelling and what the label means because it is so widely abused", adding: "The problem is we haven't done it together."

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