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Red Tractor backs “level playing field” for UK farmers over feed grain imports

Combine harvester unloading grain into trailer

Author: Jim Moseley, Red Tractor chief executive

Red Tractor recognises and supports the principle for all UK growers to be free to choose which markets they access, whether they are assured or not.

We have listened to and understand the concerns of some members, particularly when it comes to the requirements set for grain imported for animal feed production which we know has led to calls for a “level playing field”.

To help find a solution, Red Tractor joined a working group led by NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw to establish the facts on imported grain standards and compliance. The AHDB, the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) and UK Flour Millers are also involved.

At the heart of this issue lies what’s known as the “gatekeeper protocol” part of the AIC feed assurance schemes. This allows grain produced in a country where there is no farm-level assurance to enter the UK feed market. The protocol is part of the Feed Materials Assurance scheme (FEMAS). This essentially provides an assurance system to certify that feed ingredients destined for UK livestock feed meet strict legal and industry safety requirements.

To ensure the safety of livestock feed, Red Tractor has always specified that feed must be assured under the FEMAS, Universal Feed Assurance Scheme (UFAS) or other recognised schemes.

Currently, FEMAS is not open to UK non-assured feed grain growers – that’s because of the substantial costs associated with testing, but we can see how this might be interpreted as a “closed shop”.

It is Red Tractor’s view that UK growers should be granted like-for-like access to this scheme, allowing them the freedom to choose to only supply the livestock feed market in this way.

Red Tractor’s standards already allow for this, meaning non-assured UK grain producers wouldn’t face any additional requirements in choosing to take this route to market should the AIC make the necessary changes to allow it.

We are urging the AIC to review and amend its scheme to create a route to market for non-assured domestic grain under FEMAS and its “gatekeeper protocol”. Equal opportunities to supply the UK’s assured animal feed market should be given to domestic farmers as is afforded to imported grain.

Of course, the UK flour milling industry also imports wheat and it has clarified its requirements for the imported wheat assurance market. Read more about this on the UK Flour Millers website.

Red Tractor was established with a firm focus on improving and upholding standards in the domestic food supply chain, taking account of UK legislation, industry best practice and key national stewardship efforts such as the Voluntary Initiative and Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use (CRRU).

We firmly believe that Red Tractor’s Combinable Crops and Sugar Beet scheme gives UK growers maximum access to multiple markets for minimal audit burden. It’s worth remembering that under the FEMAS “gatekeeper protocol”, growers would be limited to selling crops for feed markets while Red Tractor assured members would continue to enjoy access to many other markets besides this.

Our scheme brings members a range of benefits, including streamlined entry into a wide range of food supply chains (e.g. millers, breakfast cereals, maltsters) and the growing biofuels market, to fewer government inspections and being able to buy effective second-generation rodenticides without needing a certificate of competence.

Ultimately, it is for British farmers to carefully consider all the options open to them and do what they feel is in the best interests of their business.