Farmers’ role is to ensure shoppers have safe, trusted, affordable and quality food. And there’s a key word. Trust. It underpins much of our general election manifesto and is the main basis for a long-term profitable and sustainable future for our businesses.
As we move through a period of inflation, where the cost of producing farm goods will rise, we mustn’t see a race to the bottom where continual price cuts short-change suppliers. In our manifesto, we are calling on the supply chain to act on three key issues that can create an environment that promotes long-term sustainability for our farmers, educates our shoppers on provenance, protects them from unstable pricing and volume demand, and is not afraid to back British.
Firstly, labelling. We already have the Red Tractor Assurance mark. Since Horsegate in 2013, the integrity of our raw food ingredients is a high priority for the major retailers. We should be proud and protective of our short, secure supply chains that underpin the safest and most traceable food system in the world.
Continued support for British farmers is more important than ever and I was delighted to see Co-op commit to source 100% British fresh lamb, which joins their additional commitments to 100% British across its fresh meat range and its own-label ready meals, pies and sandwiches.
Secondly, the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator needs to be extended so farmers can be better protected from unfairness in the supply chain. We strongly believe its remit of should be extended to a higher proportion of retail, foodservice and manufacturing, with enforceable codes of practice for the agricultural sector.
Thirdly, we want to see an education system that supports British farming, and one that can nurture the relationship between children, their families, the food they eat and where it comes from. Farming and food production should play an important role in the national curricula of England and Wales.
We also want to work to develop skills in our sector through technical education. We support work placements in the farming and food sector, working in collaboration with organisations such as the National Land Based College and the Agri-Skills Forum.
This post-Brexit era will offer the UK farming industry the opportunity to present a new deal to society - and attracting a diverse range of farmers should be core to that policy. But ultimately achieving this will be about farming being seen as an attractive career choice that is rewarded fairly.
But we need much more than this. We believe food manufacturers and retailers must provide clear unambiguous country-of-origin labelling on food packaging, both online and at point of purchase. This is essential for those 86% of shoppers who say they want to buy more British food. We can, of course, go even further. Let’s embrace ideas like a Buy British button for online shopping and move away from fake farm branding exercises. Brexit will give Government the perfect opportunity to shout loud and proud about British provenance home and abroad.
Meurig Raymond is president of the National Farmers’ Union