Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 380-399)



  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 opportunities here.

  382. Meat and dairy. Anything else?
  (Sir Donald Curry) There are examples now of locally produce vegetables being sold through local outlets, the opportunities are there.

  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 opportunity?
  (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.

Diana Organ

  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 about—what 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 that?
  (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 also—and over the year we have commissioned particularly during my time with the Meat and Livestock Commission an enormous amount of on-going consumer research—the 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.

Mr Simpson

  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?

  392. Separately.
  (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 practice.

  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 few benefits?
  (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 board?
  (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.

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