Alistair Mackintosh: “Strong public confidence in British food is the greatest prize for farmers”

Alistair Mackintosh vice chair Red Tractor

Author: Alistair Mackintosh, vice chair, Red Tractor

With the yearend fast just behind us, now’s an appropriate time to reflect on what has been a big year for British agriculture, especially our farmers.

In all my farming career, it feels like the level of scrutiny we face today is unparalleled – even more so than the dark days of the 1990’s when public confidence in British food was at an all-time low after successive food safety scares.

In this volatile and fast-paced world, there’s constant tension between sometimes conflicting demands – people want affordable food that’s produced to high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection. While the public interest in how their food is produced is as high as ever, they have never been so far removed from the realities of farming.

Feeding the nation

Most farmers are rightly proud of their work to feed the nation, and they want shoppers and diners to have complete confidence in home-grown food. The key to maintaining this strong public confidence is an ongoing commitment to our world-class farming standards and the UK’s regime of independent assurance schemes and regulations. This helps create a more secure future in turbulent times of supply chain disruption and free trade agreements with foreign nations.

British farming has much to be proud of, yet there is still work to be done to make sure that as an industry we take account of improvements to best practice and keep pace with consumer expectations. Shoppers and diners are ultimately each farmer’s customer – whether they sell to a local farm shop, at market or to a major supermarket.

Red Tractor helps its farm members to be in-tune with these demands while minimising the audit burden. With more than 46,000 members, the scheme’s scale and reach means its standards are truly widespread and don’t just apply to a select range of premium products. Everyone deserves to have food that is traceable, safe, and farmed with care, regardless of budget.

Farming with care goes beyond animal welfare and environmental protection, extending to make sure that anyone involved in agriculture is safe at work.

Shockingly, farming has the worst fatal accident rate of all the main UK industries – about 20 times higher than the all-industry average, according to the Health and Safety Executive. To help reduce injuries and deaths, Red Tractor recently introduced a new standard requiring farms to have a Health and Safety policy to help protect their workers.

Reassuringly British

Shoppers are increasingly aware that spotting the Union Jack on food packaging isn’t a guarantee that a product originated here. That’s why a record four out of five shoppers now actively look for the Red Tractor logo for greater assurance, because the scheme’s traceability covers the entire supply chain journey right back to UK farms.

It’s clear that farmers’ Red Tractor membership is valued by the British public, as well as the rest of the food supply chain which relies upon it for its buying specifications.

As the new vice-chair of Red Tractor, I’m committed to making sure that the nation’s shoppers and diners continue to value the hard work and dedication of our farmers. This is as important today as ever and is the best service that we can provide our members.

Alistair Mackintosh was appointed Red Tractor vice chair in November 2021. The Cumbrian beef and sheep farmer was previously the assurance scheme’s Beef and Lamb sector board chair and has been instrumental in addressingkey issues in his sector.