NFU snubs BIFGA's call to support fresh analysis of assured produce schemes

The NFU has rejected an industry call for it to back an independent cost-benefit analysis of assured produce schemes.

The call by the British Independent Fruit Growers' Association (BIFGA) for an analysis was made at a meeting of the organisation's 15-member focus group, held at East Malling Research (EMR), Kent. Its aim is to make assured produce schemes less onerous for growers.

The group said that the schemes suffer from "regulatory creep" and have completely lost sight of their basic objectives of ensuring that produce is safe to eat and is easily traceable.

"The NFU has managed to get a few irrelevant questions (that growers have to answer) removed from the schemes but they've since been replaced by a load more," maintained BIFGA vice-chairman and focus group member Clive Edmed.

"We've written to Sarah Pettitt (chairman of the NFU Board for Horticulture) asking her to back the inquiry," he added.

"We need to spend every minute of our time producing fruit, not filling in forms and jumping through more and more needless (regulatory) hoops."

However, NFU chief horticultural adviser Phil Hudson said an independent analysis had been carried out for the HDC in 2005. "Why carry out another just because you may not like the results? The original core values of the schemes were to promote food safety, traceability, crop protection and integrated crop management, and they still hold those core values."

Hudson said the NFU wanted to work with BIFGA to do away with the current need to benchmark schemes across Europe because "that adds bureaucracy and red tape". "But we need to convince others. Rather than firing bullets at the NFU, let's work at making something happen that we are agreed on."

The group has suggested to the NFU that the cost-benefit analysis could be carried out by EMR. Its chief executive, Dr Colin Gutteridge, who was present at the meeting, said that EMR is an "appropriate organisation" to carry out an unbiased analysis.

Gutteridge said that carrying out the proposed analysis would involve discussing the many issues involved with all food supply chain organisations, including marketing groups and multiples as well as growers.

He said: "In a climate in which everyone is struggling for profit, it's entirely appropriate to consider whether there's too much money being spent on the implementation of assured produced schemes."

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