Examination of Witness (Questions 380-399)
WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2002
380. You do not think it is possible to put
any kind of number on the gain size of market potential?
(Sir Donald Curry) It is inappropriate to try and
quantify this because it would vary significantly from sector
to sector. There is an opportunity now and we believe that given
the right green lights, this can be developed and become a bigger
part of the food industry.
381. This has become a buzz word. Why is it
inappropriate? If you are saying to farmers out there, "Look
guys, go local. Look for market opportunities", there is
nothing in here which says which sectors. We have fiddled around
with the dairy sector. I would have thought you might say "dairy,
livestock, these are the top three, this is what could happen,
this is the way to do it", and you have said it is inappropriate.
(Sir Donald Curry) I have said the meat sector has
382. Meat and dairy. Anything else?
(Sir Donald Curry) There are examples now of locally
produce vegetables being sold through local outlets, the opportunities
383. But we do not know what the gain is in
terms of the global picture of farming yet you say it is the greatest
(Sir Donald Curry) We have at the moment a few per
cent of the total local food production being sold through local
outlets. It is possible to increase that. It may go to five or
ten per cent. It will not be the mainstream of food production
but it can be valuable opportunities for the people prepared to
participate in it to add value and sustain what would otherwise
be unsustainable businesses.
384. In the Report, which is Food & Farming:
a sustainable future, there is very little about food and
in end that is what it is all aboutwhat the consumer wants,
what the consumer is going to take. Last week when we had Professor
Hughes from Wye College, he made it clear that what the future
is is things that are easy, convenient, that get yourself through
the week and that is what consumers buy. He painted a horrible
picture of Thursday night, aisle 12, in the supermarket just get
it in the trolley to get it home to get you through the next week.
In what you have been talking to Michael Jack about, where is
the real evidence that consumers prefer British and locality food?
The 11 million Londoners and the five million West Midland people,
the people from Glasgow and Manchester, they are not running around
the countryside staying in bed and breakfasts buying a little
bit of local food. What they are going to buy is out of their
supermarkets. What you are talking about is fiddling at the edges.
Where is the real future for British farming given that the overwhelming
modern consumer in Britain today wants to buy something that is
lifestyle, healthy, easy to get hold of and easy to prepare?
(Sir Donald Curry) We state that in the Report; convenience
is going to be the big driver. Lifestyles have changed. That is
how it is. The majority of people will continue to shop in supermarkets;
a statement in the Report.
385. Where then is the future for farming in
(Sir Donald Curry) The farming industry and the processing
sector have got to be able to compete for that market. There is
no doubt about that. I am repeating what I said earlier. They
need to get together to collaborate to ensure that they are producing
products consistently, feeding into the processing sector through
which, in an ideal world, they have an involvement, targeted on
the market to ensure that British food producers and processors
are able to meet that dynamic challenge of consumer lifestyles
and convenience shopping. We have already a significant part of
our food being supplied by imported products. I suspect that will
continue. We believe that, given the right encouragement and the
willingness of the farming and food industry to change and adapt
to meet these challenges, there is no reason why our share of
the market should decline.
386. Where is the opportunity for it to hold
its own and to grow? If the answer is local and locality food
I am not sure in your Report you have given evidence that people
do prefer British and local products.
(Sir Donald Curry) I have tried to position this area
of local and locality food. There is a great opportunity, as we
say, for individuals to take advantage of an interest in local
food. It is not going to be the mainstream. The majority of farmers
will continue to produce food for the mainstream processing of
products for supermarket shelves. Consumers will continue to,
in the main, buy from supermarkets. That is what it says and we
have to target on that. The research would suggest, Tesco's evidence
would suggest that there is not a huge premium available, if any
at all, for identified British products but there is within the
research alsoand over the year we have commissioned particularly
during my time with the Meat and Livestock Commission an enormous
amount of on-going consumer researchthe evidence that given
a fair and level field, English consumers would prefer to buy
English food. They believe that they can trust our food, that
we apply regulations and compared to imported products they feel
more comfortable buying home-produced food. We need to cement
that interest in home-produced food by making sure that we communicate
the values attached to it. We have acknowledged that the Red Tractor
is the most visible of logos currently in the eyes of the consumer
and we need to build on that to transmit to them the values surrounding
the food we produce so that in preference they choose our food.
387. I agree that many of us do recognise the
Red Tractor when it is on a label. Did you do any sort of test
of that evidence? Did you go round consumers and say, "What
do you think this little symbol means? What does it mean to you?"
(Sir Donald Curry) We used some existing research
that had been done and the answer is unclear. They do not know
what it means but they recognise the symbol.
388. From the evidence we have for the consumer
for them it is unclear?
(Sir Donald Curry) They recognise the symbol, they
are unclear about what it stands for and what it means.
389. So the argument that the consumer wants
to buy British food because they feel good about the safety and
the regulation and animal welfare; we do not know that is the
case, do we?
(Sir Donald Curry) Yes we do. Country of origin is
important. There is a separate recommendation on that. And I must
stress that the Red Tractor must not be confused with the country
of origin. There is a desire on the part of the majority of consumers
in Britain to know that the food has been produced from farms
that have good standards of animal welfare, that the food is safe
and that increasingly it is produced to sound environmental standards.
We need to make sure that the Red Tractor transmits that information
to the consumer. It has been launched with very limited funds.
It has achieved quite remarkable recognition. In view of the very
limited resources that have been put behind it, we recommend substantially
increasing the resources to promote that Red Tractor explaining
to the consumer what it conveys what it means so that they seek
it out in purchasing food, knowing that they can do so with confidence.
390. Sir Donald, can I begin with a practical
piece of information which you can give me. Do you know how much
the Commission cost?
(Sir Donald Curry) The entire Commission or the Report?
391. The Commission and the Report.
(Sir Donald Curry) Separately or together?
(Sir Donald Curry) We will have four and a half thousand
copies of the Report and it will have cost about £2 a copy.
393. Right and the actual cost of the Commission,
in total how much is it?
(Sir Donald Curry) Round about £150,000.
394. Thank you very much. Can I turn to a question
which you have identified which is that you say that a small minority
of producers in the way they operate are falling well below animal
welfare regulations and you suggest, effectively, that one of
the ways of dealing with this is the majority of retailers and
food service industry moving towards an assured supply chain.
It is a negative question to ask you, but can you say why some
retailers and people in the food service might not support a move
to an assured supply chain?
(Sir Donald Curry) That is not an easy question to
answer. We are concerned that those who refuse to participate
in assurance schemes are potentially exposing the industry to
examples of bad practice and undermining further and further the
reputation of the farming and food industry. Over the last six
or seven years we have had so much exposure of poor practice and,
indeed, as a consequence of BSE largely an undermining of consumer
confidence in the food we produce, and we strongly recommend that
every food producer should participate in an assurance scheme
so that we can state with confidence that we have meaningful standards
around the production of that food and we are not exposed to bad
395. Is it because they suspect they would not
come up to these standards or are there other reasons why they
would not wish to participate?
(Sir Donald Curry) They may be concerned about hitting
the standards. They may regard the schemes as not having delivered
a financial return so why should they participate. To prove that
assurance schemes have given the farmers who participate a financial
benefit so far is not easy to prove and those who are negative
about it would say, "Why should I bother?"
396. So really there is not much, apart from
the fact that the assurance scheme will give the impression that
people participating in it meet all the standards that one could
think of, there are not any other practical reasons? Somebody
might very well say, "I meet all the welfare standards, I
will happily have anybody come in and look at it, but I do not
see why I should participate in an assured food chain", because,
as you quite rightly said, at the moment there are relatively
(Sir Donald Curry) I am not saying there are not any
benefits. There are some benefits but it may be for some people
difficult to quantify what the benefits are. I think it is important
to position this and it is clear from the research that in some
commodity sectors the majority of farmers are participating now,
and we have in some sectors participation of up to 90 per cent
of volume. In others it is as low as 60 or 70, but in our view
to bring in the balance that is not currently engaged in these
assurance schemes should be a prime target so we can say with
confidence that all our farms are producing to a given standard.
397. I am leading on from that because the Commission
says basically that if there are rogue producers and they do not
participate in the assurance supply chain: ". . . we see
a case for implementing a licence system for livestock farmers
not involved in assurance, to ensure enforcement of the codes".
Would you therefore see that as a licensing system across the
(Sir Donald Curry) Yes, we particularly had in mind
the livestock industry here and the need to ensure that we have
very high standards of animal welfare and high standards of participation
in the husbandry codes. Everyone should be applying these and
if the market does not pull through the remaining farmers out
there who are not participating in the assurance scheme we believe
ultimately we should consider a licensing approach because it
is crucial that everyone does participate.
398. That would have to be run by DEFRA?
(Sir Donald Curry) It would have to be run by DEFRA,
which is why we have not recommended that as an immediate course
of action because the bureaucracy attached to this would be significant
and it would be much better if we could create barriers to entry
in the market-place and pull people in through that route rather
than going through the bureaucratic licensing route.
399. We are speculating here but if we had to
establish such a bureaucratic system operated by DEFRA then one
would assume the people being licensed would pay for the licence
to cover the cost of the bureaucracy? In other words, this would
put even more costs on a sector in trouble?
(Sir Donald Curry) Yes.