The Covid-19 pandemic has brought food supply into sharp focus – perhaps more so than any other time since World War 2. It has changed the way people are buying and consuming food, from initial mass panic buying, to consumers going directly to farm gates, or smaller outlets to avoid the crowds, to find a scarce product to purchase which will enable them to cook from scratch.
Jim Moseley – CEO Red Tractor takes a look at what we have learned about our country, our supply chains and ourselves since the lockdown.
We have learnt a lot about our country, our supply chains and ourselves during the past four months.
The food sector united as an industry to feed the nation, but at Red Tractor we were adamant that this shouldn’t be at the cost of relaxing production standards. For two decades we have worked to improve standards to ensure that the UK’s supply chain remains as safe and secure as possible.
The introduction of remote assessments to replace physical inspections at the end of March is just one of the latest examples of how we do this.
With over 46,000 British farmer members and approximately 75% of UK agricultural output Red Tractor Assured, we are the UK’s largest food and farming scheme. Membership provides a route to market to some of the UK’s largest food service customers, restaurant chains, pubs and supermarkets – resulting in over £14 billion of British produced food and drink carrying the logo. Because of this, our mission is very clear - ensure people have access to safe, affordable, and responsibly sourced food, by protecting the integrity of the food chain and British agricultural standards.
In addition to safeguarding the supply chain our standards are designed to reduce the audit burden for both farmers and processors - making it an economically viable sourcing choice for food most businesses.
The change from having a physical visit to a live streamed audit is quite significant, but it was necessary for the farm assurance chain to remain robust. This innovative solution meets all UKAS and Food Standards Agency requirements, to ensure the supply chain remains secure and high quality, traceable British produce is always available for food businesses and consumers.
Through a combination of live streaming and the option to upload documents to a unique and secure custom built secure portal– effectively a confidential online filing system – beforehand, remote assessments have allowed our Certification Bodies to fulfil their roles of managing the scheme and carrying out assessments to certify the Red Tractor Standards.
By giving assessors the ability to have ‘virtual eyes’ on farm, it has allowed farmers to complete their assessments to gain or maintain their assurance status throughout this unprecedented period.
We recognise that the use of technology can and has been a challenge for some of our members, especially if using it for the first time, or given the level of mobile connectivity often available in rural areas. So we and our certification bodies have continued to canvas views from farmers who have found parts of the remote assessment process difficult, to make improvements. We have continued to test the platforms and systems and respond to user feedback to deliver a robust regime for farmers. And we have continued to develop workarounds such as offline video recording and offered advice and resources to ease the apprehension of members.
And it’s working. We have delivered a solution to a problem that came around the corner so quickly that no-one had time to see it before it hit. Already more than 10,000 remote assessments have been completed. Thanks to technology, the excellent work of our certification bodies and the resilience of farmers, we have ensured that we continue to have a secure and traceable supply chain that the UK agriculture’s biggest customers can be confident in.
As we move towards a semblance of normality, we will continue to take a sensible, measured and sustainable approach to how we deliver our inspection regimes. We have already begun the phased re-introduction of physical inspections on farms.
This ensures that we have a viable solution for assessments now, and a valuable asset beyond this Covid-19 pandemic.