The NFU Council in England and Wales has unanimously agreed to the creation of two 'critical reviews' into how farm assurance schemes operate, and whether they provide value for farmers.

The first will examine the governance of Red Tractor; the second will look more widely at farm assurance and will be aimed at revolutionising farm-to-fork assurance. The decision follows criticism of Red Tractor, which last week proposed a voluntary environmental module.

Initially, NFU only planned a single independent review of the governance of Red Tractor, which was upgraded as it was not going 'far enough to deal with wider and deeper issues around assurance, and would not be able to identify the opportunities and changes that are needed.'

The Northern Farmer: Red Tractor

NFU President Minette Batters said: "I'm very happy indeed that, after what's been a difficult few days for all of us, the review into Red Tractor governance can now begin, and we can start to build this second, far bigger review into assurance as a whole.

"It's time for that to happen, so we can look at what works and what doesn't, and to make sure assurance is fit for purpose in the years ahead."

The initial announcement by Red Tractor to include a voluntary environmental module within the scheme was widely criticised.

The Northern Farmer: NFU President Minette Batters said: 'Food production will always be core to a nation’s resilience and I’m pleased the government has recognised this'

National Beef Association chief executive Neil Shand condemned both the process of the announcement and its implications on farmers. He said: "The National Beef Association Board has always been supportive of Farm Assurance and the marketing benefits that the Red Tractor voluntary schemes can provide.

"But we would like to express our disappointment at the timing and content of the new Greener Farms Commitment standard, which was recently launched by Red Tractor without any proper and detailed consultation with industry stakeholders.

"The NBA Board absolutely understands the environmental challenges that lie ahead. Our industry is already committed to delivering extensive environmental benefits and will continue to do so. As SFI develops in England, further advantages will become apparent, along with a benefit to producers – which includes financial gain as opposed to extra cost and increased administration.

"The NBA also stands firmly against assurance programs, or any third parties, imposing restrictions on the amount of land used to produce food in a country that is not self-sufficient."

Meanwhile, NSA England Chair Kevin Harrison added: "There is no doubt the feeling of the NSA English committee is one of a great deal of frustration and concern on how Red Tractor is forcing its vision of the Greener Farms Commitment through without proper consultation and without any understanding of the unique position sheep producers find themselves in. It is quite telling that those responsible for the governance of the assurance scheme felt the need to work on this behind closed doors without even consulting their boards or technical advisory committees."

Meanwhile, Red Tractor chair Christine Tacon has published an open letter to RT members, stressing that the assurance body wanted to 'offer a positive contribution and the views of our members matter to us very much'.

In the letter, Ms Tacon explains that unless changes were made, there is a risk that retailers 'will use alternative, possibly global standards, which will not differentiate British produce from overseas'.