As the LEAF Marque Standard version 14.1 came into effect on 1st January 2017, Ian Finlayson, Chairman of the LEAF Marque Technical Advisory Committee shares his thoughts on the role of assurance systems in driving forward more sustainable farming and stronger supply chains…
Food labelling is vital to our trust in the products we buy and consume. Without robust auditing the trust in labels and our food system fails as shown by food fraud scares. Our food systems are complex and can obscure the exact origins of our food. Understanding where our food comes from and how it has been produced underlines assurance schemes such as Red Tractor, RSCPA Assured, Organic and of course, LEAF Marque. In essence, they provide the means to better understand our food. To know that is has met a certain benchmark of safe and/or sustainable production. This is great for us as consumers but also for farmers as it provides recognition for their work in these areas. For LEAF Marque, it demonstrates farmers’ environmental commitments with the potential to increase farm profitability through improved management and expand market opportunities for certified product.
Why do we need assurance schemes?
Today’s consumer is more informed than previously and they want to learn more. Our digital era has played a huge part in this thirst for knowledge. Furthermore, social media offers immediate communication between farmers, retailers and consumers and is fuelling demand for complete transparency in the authenticity of the products we consume.
Certification is key to creating more transparency. It helps to prove the high quality of products in a credible way, making them stand out and offering public assurance that they have been produced safely and to a certain standard of quality. For farmers, certification enables them to show the integrity of their products and helps to secure the trust of their customers which can, in turn, push up sales.
How do we achieve transparency?
Public trust and confidence in assurance schemes is dependent on the authenticity of the schemes themselves. As standard setters and developers, our duty is to ensure our standards are robust and they deliver on the sustainability promises we make. We do this in a number of ways:
- Good governance – our LEAF Marque Technical Advisory Committee overseas the ongoing development of the LEAF Marque Standard which is underpinned by LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management. It brings together experts from a diverse range of backgrounds including farmers, retailers, conservation groups, government and industry bodies. They ensure the LEAF Marque Standard continues to evolve to respond to user comments, industry developments, the rise in new technologies and consumer trends.
- Collaborating – We are proud to be a Full Member of the ISEAL alliance which works to strengthen sustainability standards systems and encourages dialogue between all its members in order to innovate and drive the sustainability standards movement forward. LEAF Marque has also been benchmarked to Gold Level against the SAI Platform Farmer Self Assessment with appropriate baseline systems.
- Listening – The LEAF Marque Standard is underpinned by the ISEAL Codes of Good Practice and its credibility principles which set out the approach that is essential for standards. At the very core of these is consultation. We regularly seek the views of our farmers and growers, members and wider stakeholders to ensure the ongoing development of the LEAF Marque Standard.
The LEAF Marque Standard – what’s new?
Following our most recent consultation process, the latest version of the LEAF Marque Standard (version 14.1) is effective from the 1st January 2017. We have refreshed its design and layout and made a number of other changes including the addition of six new Control Points covering energy, recording habitats and Chain of Custody. Mandatory control points are now referred to as ‘Essential’ control points rather than ‘Critical Failure Points’. These changes and the new design and layout offers our farmers and growers increased clarity. We have received positive feedback from our growers in support of the changes.
How will the LEAF Marque Standard have to evolve?
Farmers face huge challenges as they try to find sustainable solutions to feed the world’s growing population without depleting its natural resources. This, coupled with more volatile climate patterns, political priorities and ever-changing consumer demands, will call for innovative and joined-up solutions. There is no question that the growth for certified, traceable, sustainable products will continue. This provides a global opportunity for farmers. LEAF have three key priorities over the next five years:
Improving our outreach to consumers: Whilst awareness of the LEAF Marque is growing, we still have a long way to go. We will harness the power of social media, increase the number of LEAF Marque certified farmers reaching out to the public, through for example, LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday in order to increase public understanding, recognition and demand for sustainably produced food.
Building closer links: We will strengthen our links across the food industry to work together to ensure the LEAF Marque Standard continues to evolve and drive forward improvements in sustainable farming.
Identifying partnerships: We envisage the role of sustainable farming as one of the solutions to the world’s growing health and obesity problems will be a key area for us. We are determined to ensure that LEAF Marque and the principles of Integrated Farm Management are at the heart of this debate.
Independently-verified assurance schemes have a critical role to play in the future. They help to generate higher revenue for farmers, contribute to stronger and more stable supply chain across the entire food industry and can deliver meaningful economic, environmental and social impacts. The key is to ensure they themselves have integrity. There is a powerful and growing wave of momentum behind sustainable food. We are firmly focused on strengthening LEAF Marque as the leading environmental assurance system recognising sustainably farmed products.
About the author:
Ian is Managing Director of the Practical Solutions International, an independent consultancy company specialising in sustainable, ethical and safe food production. Ian headed up the work at Sainsbury’s on pesticides for many years and was a member of the Pesticide Residue Committee (now PRiF) for 8 years. More recently has been technical director for a number of fresh produce and cut flower companies and Chair of the Fairtrade International Standards Committee. Ian became Chairman of the LEAF Marque Technical Advisory Committee in January 2016.