NFU calls for better labelling

Commercial farmers need to make a profit, because their livelihood depends on it, and they should not feel they have to apologise for it, said NFU leader Peter Kendall.

Commercial farmers need to make a profit, because their livelihood depends on it, and they should not feel they have to apologise for it, according to National Farmers Union leader Peter Kendall at the Oxford Farming Conference last week.

However, farmers still needed to make a case for making a profit and defending it given the difficulties they faced. He said the challenge was exempified by the UK pig industry and 40% contraction in the breeding herd in the last 10 years. "The most horrifying of all is that today, of the replacement imported pork, 70% would fall below legal standards we adopt for UK production," he said.

The population projection meant there was a case for commercial farming and while there was a case for reducing the environmental impact this could not just be done by reducing production. And that is why he said untargeted measures such as taxation and other economic instruments were categorically the wrong answer.

Kendall called on the government to focus more on producing food sustainably rather than just focusing on the environment. He also urged it to assist commercial farmers to operate in a fair market through better labelling, particularly on country of origin.

Kendall threw down the gauntlet on improved labelling at Justin King, chief executive of Sainsbury's, who was at the conference. He said he wanted products to clearly show the country of origin, not just where the processing or packaging took place.

"Sainsbury's are committed to selling only Fairtrade bananas. That's fine. But how about fair trade for UK farmers? Why not show whether the producer is receiving a fair and sustainable price?" he said.

Retailers are proud of their relationships with their customers and Kendall encouraged them to try and have the same pride in their relations with their suppliers while warning them not to take UK production for granted. "We need long term relationships and not the yearly beating up over prices."

The NFU is planning to launch a responsibility index for the UK retail sector in the next few months Kendall announced. The index will take a corporate responsibility approach to ranking performance against a set of measures including clear labelling, involvement in dedicated supply chains, relationships with suppliers, use of UK product, use of Red Tractor produce and rules applied to imported products.

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