12 July 2002

Tractor logo rules tighter

By Johann Tasker

STRICTER rules for the British Farm Standards Little Red Tractor logo could be in place as early as this autumn after criticism from the governments food safety watchdog.

The Food Standards Agency said a radical overhaul was needed if assurance schemes were to deliver consumer benefits and improve consumer confidence. People wrongly assume the Red Tractor logo indicates a British product, but the logo can also be used on imported produce, it added.

Agency chairman John Krebs said: "Assurance schemes such as the Red Tractor are potentially a force for good, driving up production standards and expanding choice, but they need a shake-up. Most people are thoroughly confused about assurance schemes. The number of different schemes and their various logos adds to the confusion."

David Clarke, chief executive of Assured Food Standards, the body responsible for the Little Red Tractor, said he accepted some of Sir Johns criticism. But the organisation had been "working feverishly" on improving the logo for the past six months. It was possible that tighter rules would be in place over the next few months, he indicated.

"It is a shame that the Food Standards Agency hasnt given us credit for where we are now," Mr Clarke told farmers weekly. "It is not as if we have to start from scratch and I actually think we have done quite well in the two years since the logo was launched. Two years is an extremely short time to establish a brand."

Improvements are likely to be in line with recommendations made by the policy commission report on the future of farming published earlier this year. That report said Assured Food Standards may need to improve its independence by reviewing its constitution and board composition. It also suggested that the logo should cover environmental standards.

Food assurance schemes cover up to 85% of food production, but the Food Standards Agency believes confusion surrounding them makes it difficult for consumers to make informed choices. All assurance schemes are currently run by producers and retailers, with widely differing standards of disclosure and transparency.

The agency believes the Red Tractor scheme should be administered by a new independent organisation with better consumer representation. Action is needed to ensure greater transparency and that the needs of consumers are given equal importance to those of producers and retailers, it claims. &#42