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The code of practice would complement and expand on the rules already laid out in GSCOP

The NFU has called on the government to introduce a horticultural buyers code of practice as part of a package of recommendations to underpin confidence and profitability in the British horticulture sector and ensure fairness in the supply chain.

The call from the sector comes amid ongoing challenges, including costs of production, which have increased by as much as 39% in the past two years, and uncertainty about a long-term plan for seasonal workers.

The code of practice would complement and expand on the rules already laid out in GSCOP and be applicable to all buyers across the supply chain, including foodservice and processors, the NFU said.

“The majority of our members will report at various times that they feel they have not been fairly treated by their customer, and it’s really important to understand that doesn’t necessarily mean the multiple retailer,” Martin Emmett, chair of the NFU’s horticulture and potatoes board  told The Grocer.

“If we all recognise we have an objective to maintain a secure and sustainable supply of food in this country then it is something that really the whole supply chain needs to be adjusted to achieve, and so reflected in that is our ask for a horticultural buyers code of practice,” he added, explaining the GCA currently “only goes so far”.

The aim of the buyers code is to show relationship best practice which can be enforceable by the government to make sure there is an appropriate mechanism for balancing risk and return, he said.

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It forms part of the NFU’s recommendations to the Defra horticulture supply chain review consultation.

Other recommendations which could ensure a fair and well-functioning horticulture supply chain fit for the UK’s food security needs included the government using its powers in the Agriculture Act to regulate contracts, and ensuring appropriate enforcement of regulations made under the Agriculture Act by an independent body.

The NFU has also recommended the expansion of GSCOP and the GCA to include large manufacturers and processors in its scope and to include ornamental crops in its remit.

It also called for the government to work together so GSCOP legislation stays relevant to the industry challenges, and legally incorporating the GCA’s seven golden rules into GSCOP.

“Having experienced shortages of some of the nation’s favourite fruit and vegetables in the past 12 months, and with ongoing global instability, we know firsthand how fragile the supply chain is,” Emmett said.

“We want to see our domestic supply chain geared to consistently deliver a sustainable supply of affordable British food for people,” he added. “It is essential for the future of the sector that we address concerns about fairness in the supply chain and build confidence back into the sector.”

The government’s horticulture supply chain review consultation has now closed with results expected in due course.

It comes as new legislation paving the way for radical reform in how dairy farmers are paid for their milk was finally laid before parliament last week.

The Fair Dealing Obligations (Milk) Regulations 2024 supersedes a voluntary code of practice, introduced in 2012, which has long been dismissed as ineffective. It includes the creation of a new Agricultrual Supply Chain Adjudicator, the remit of which Defra said could be rolled out to other agricultural categories in the future.