Industry gets tough on farms over food standards

The Red Tractor scheme will be broadened into areas such as organic and environmentally-friendly produce and higher animal welfare, it has announced.
The Red Tractor scheme will be broadened into areas such as organic and environmentally-friendly produce and higher animal welfare, it has announced.
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The food industry’s Red Tractor quality assurance scheme will be broadened in the wake of a cruelty scare to include organic and environmentally-friendly produce, it will announce today.

The organisation, which runs the UK’s biggest food labelling programme, will also unveil new standards of animal welfare, with more unannounced inspections to ensure producers are meeting its standards 365 days a year.

Its announcement comes after allegations by campaigners at the beginning of the year of cruelty to pigs on a Red Tractor accredited farm in Bedfordshire, which was subsequently removed from the scheme.

The programme, launched in 2000 in the wake of food scares including BSE and foot and mouth disease, is also launching a £1.5m TV advertising campaign to promote its new regime.

As part of efforts to position itself as the “flagship” of British food and farming, Red Tractor says it will bring in new sets of standards covering areas such as organic food, enriched animal welfare and environmentally sustainable farming.

The new rules, which will begin to take effect in November with a full roll-out next year, will target farms which have failed to meet past standards.

The organisation’s chief executive, Jim Moseley, acknowledged that animal welfare groups were highlighting issues with the treatment of livestock, but said the latest moves were part of a “continual strengthening” of the management of the scheme.

He hinted that new technology, such as CCTV and real-time access to data that farms record on a daily basis, could also be used in the future.

The new rules will sit alongside the existing scheme, and will include consumer labelling to improve clarity for shoppers.

Mr Moseley said: “Increasing confidence in Red Tractor and the entire UK food industry is vital, particularly as we approach Brexit.”

He said consumers were facing “uncertainty” over food in the aftermath of the referendum, with concerns about issues such as hormone-treated beef and chlorinated chicken, which could come into the UK after it leaves the EU.

“Our role, if the consumer looks for that Red Tractor logo, is to reassure them our produce, Red Tractor produce, is produced safely and responsibly,” Mr Moseley said.

“We know shoppers are increasingly looking for more informed choice and simple signposts to traceable, safe and responsibly produced food, which is why we are looking to extend the remit of Red Tractor.”