Tick here to indicate that you have read and agree to the terms and conditions …

It’s something we all do without thinking these days – sign up to online and other services without even dreaming of reading our way through the ‘terms and conditions’ page.

Be they the bank, a retail service, the Rural Payments Agency, on-line VAT services or the even The Scottish Farmer’s own wonderful on-line service – which keeps you up-to-date with everything that’s going on in farming – we quite happily click the ‘accept’ button and get on with things.

I must admit that even on the rare occasion when I have actually gone as far as clicking the ‘view terms and conditions’ button the will to live – or at least to continue reading – has run out long before the end of the terms of service or the data use policy or the privacy statement has been reached.

There’s a long-standing story that one of these websites contained terms and conditions which bound those who ‘clicked to accept’ to handing over not only their bank details but also their first born child and to sell their soul to the Devil at a price well below the going rate. Apparently, no one noticed for years and the undertakings were still buried deep in the legal section of the website even years after the programmer left the company.

It’s been even worse since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force last year as we now seem to have to sanction something on almost every page we browse our way through – and I’m still waiting for all those cookies arriving.

But while you might end up suffering some embarrassment for unwittingly signing up to receive e-mail updates from the Sheep Fanciers Gazette, there are undoubtedly some real dangers lurking out there for the unwary and hardly a week goes by without news of someone falling for an internet con.

However, the world-wide web isn’t the only place where dangers lurk for not paying attention to what you might carelessly commit to without paying proper attention.

While we might be almost as fed up of the seemingly endless round of industry consultations as we are of ticking unnecessary boxes on the internet, failing to read the small print or voicing any objections can lead to the tacit approval of something we might later regret.

I guess there’s often an expectation that it’s someone else’s job to read through these long-winded, complex and often tedious documents – after all what else to we pay the membership subs to our chosen lobbying organisation for but to have them do that for us?

But with the sheer amount of stuff pumped out under the guise of a consultation these days, it wouldn’t be difficult for something to be missed. While the brown sticky stuff will inevitably hit the fan sometime along the line when the consequences of such an omission comes to light and we’re all looking round for someone to point the finger of blame at, we should probably really take more of a collective responsibility on this front.

Especially as many of these consultations are actually a numbers game – and while the forces rallying against aspects of the industry can muster legions to respond, no matter how good the arguments put forward by our own organisations happen to be, as far as the politicians are concerned it’s numbers that get listened to.

Anyhoo, as an example of just how easy it could be to miss out on something which could have long-term consequences for the industry, I wonder how many people were, like me, totally unaware of SEPA’s recent consultation on their ‘Crop Production Sector Plan’?

“SEPA is not the main influencer in the crop production sector, we need to work in partnerships and use this to support innovation in this sector. This consultation on the draft sector plan gives everyone with an interest in the sector an opportunity to comment,” reads the overview to the consultation which, in case you’re wondering, closed the middle of last month.

“Once it’s finalised, we are going to push on and implement it,” continued the organisation which has a: “We asked; You said; We did,” page on its website to show how involved it likes to be with its communities, partners and stakeholders.

So, it’s pretty lucky that NFU Scotland did pick up on this one – for the document seems to propose a fairly radical re-positioning of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency. Had it slipped by without objection and given the green light by default, there was a real chance that it could have drastically changed the powers which this organisation wields over our daily operations and working lives.

For within it, the consultation signalled an important shift in the way that SEPA operates as and environmental regulator – which some already view as granting them powers to be judge, jury and executioner – to what looked like an attempt to take on more policy powers as well and effectively giving them the ability to draw up the laws which they would then police.

The crux of the document seems to focus on ‘going beyond compliance’ – and sets out how an ambitious SEPA could extend its role to exert greater influence and control over the means and processes which we use to produce food.

But this hint at the sort of regulatory creep which would see SEPA’s influence extend well beyond its current role, certainly seemed to get the backs up of the union’s combinable crops committee – which responded with a pretty strong ‘think again’ message to the SEPA bosses.

It did seem a bit of a backward step from the environmental watchdog, especially as SEPA has been doing itself a bit of good recently and appeared to have been keener to work with the industry – by offering advice and encouragement, rather than simply waving a big stick.

There was also a fear that the proposals would see SEPA move into some of the areas already controlled by organisations like Scottish Natural Heritage – and this would inevitably lead to two sets of inspectors breathing down our necks and offering different interpretations of the same rules.

To be fair, their concept of ‘going beyond compliance’ could also be interpreted as a desire to seek out greater co-operation with the industry to deliver improved outcomes, but the clumsy wording of the consultation on this front certainly didn’t go anywhere near reassuring the reader that this was the case.

There’s also the question of who would foot the bill for the extension of SEPA’s remit. With the organisation’s belt already pulled pretty tight, its aim to see cost recovery under a make the polluter pay approach often forces potential polluters to pay, regardless of whether or not they ever actually do so.

But there were also strong objections to SEPA’s suggestion that it could also become involved with other areas of the

supply chain. While it is possible that such an approach could provide positive results and a better understanding between the different links in the food chain, if SEPA actively encouraged processors to introduce new higher standards it would simply be ratcheting up the requirements by raising the regulatory baseline.

Maybe just as well the industry didn’t just accept the terms and conditions without checking …