The Red Tractor logo on a red tractor© Tim Scrivener

The farming industry has just a few days left to respond to a consultation that will shape Red Tractor farm assurance standards for the next three years.

The UK’s largest farm assurance body set out the proposed changes in November and, if approved, will implement them in October 2017.

A huge cross section of farming is involved in the process of drawing up revisions to standards every three years, including farmers, trade associations, vets, processors and retailers. 

See also: Red Tractor offers farmers free marketing materials

But Red Tractor says farmers often don’t realise the emphasis that is placed on meeting consumer demands.

Research carried out earlier this year by the Institute of Grocery Distribution provided a clear picture of what matters most to shoppers.

“Food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection were the three main areas that consumers told us were on their mind,” said Assured Food Standards chief executive David Clarke.

“We have to be consumer-focused so that the Red Tractor logo delivers food to the standard that shoppers demand.

“No pesticide residues, no antibiotic residues and better product safety are all in the top 10 consumer expectations when it comes to quality assurance logos.”

Responsibility

The serious new challenge of organisms developing antibiotic resistance means the scheme is now in line with best practice advice from the Responsible Use of Medicines Alliance (RUMA).

Fruit, vegetable and salad standards have also been strengthened to keep ahead of food safety concerns. “Home-grown produce has a very good track record, but we must make sure we keep it that way,” said Mr Clarke. 

About one-fifth of shoppers also expect “environmentally friendly” products, while 75% see a product’s impact on the environment as important when choosing the food they buy.

Environmental protection already forms a key part of farm assurance standards, but further measures have been added to some livestock standards in the latest review.

Trust is another key element, as the sector tries to counter all the food-scare stories pedalled in certain parts of the media.

Responses to the Red Tractor consultation, which closes on 31 December, are being invited through farming organisations, and further information can be found on the Red Tractor Assurance website

What’s changing?

  • Animal medicines and husbandry: In response to the challenge of antibiotic resistance, Red Tractor has adapted its standards to reflect best practice advice from RUMA. 
  • Vermin control: Red Tractor has added to and strengthened its vermin control standards so that assured farmers continue to be recognised as competent users.
  • Environmental protection: New and amended standards reflect changes in legislation and reduce the risk of environmental contamination through plant protection products and fertilisers.
  • Product contamination: Food safety improvements will reduce the risk of microbiological, chemical or physical contamination.
  • Biosecurity: Some strengthened and new standards to deliver improved preventative disease management across both the extensive and intensive livestock sectors.