Red Tractor should tighten pesticide rules, says report

Pesticide campaigners and wildlife groups are urging Red Tractor assurance to adopt tighter rules on chemical crop controls. 

The call was published in a report by the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN), supported by the RSPB and Pesticide Action Network.

It suggests the Red Tractor scheme needs an urgent overhaul to strengthen the promotion of non-chemical strategies and integrated pest management (IPM).

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The scheme lacks targets to reduce pesticide use and fails to require its certified farmers to adopt alternative approaches, the report said.

These targets should include selecting pest- and disease-resistant crop varieties, crop rotations and using biopesticides, it added.

Report co-author and NFFN chairman Martin Lines said: “There will always be a balance to strike between pesticide reduction and the quality and quantity of the crop produced.

“But Red Tractor has an opportunity to provide the right support and guidance in driving an uptake of IPM.”

RSPB senior policy officer Steph Morren added that the public expected standards to offer higher levels of environmental protection rather than just ensuring farmers were adhering to laws.

Ms Morren urged Red Tractor to help farmers reduce pesticide use, which would then provide better assurance that the scheme logo meant food had been grown more sustainably.

Report recommendations

  • Establish and monitor targets to cut total pesticide use
  • Prohibit the use of the most harmful pesticides
  • Require farmers to select non-chemical alternatives when available
  • Adapt the requirements of its standard to include a specific focus on pesticide use and hazard reduction
  • Place more emphasis on preventative and non-chemical methods for managing pests, diseases and weeds
  • Introduce measures to support farmers to adopt non-chemical approaches

A Red Tractor spokesman welcomed the constructive points in the report, but said the voluntary scheme was the “bedrock of progressive farming” and insisted “assured food is responsibly produced”. 

“We strive for the right balance, ensuring our scheme aligns with Defra’s revised National Action Plan for Pesticides, and IPM expectations linked to the Sustainable Farming Incentive,” he said.

“This will maintain Red Tractor’s role of minimising regulatory burden for farms, as well as advancing industry standards,” the spokesman said.

“Our scheme should continue to support successful IPM implementation but, where standards are raised and farms are asked to go further, a clear rationale to build industry support for change is needed.

“Without this, it risks pushing Red Tractor towards being a point of difference marque for only the most well-resourced farms,” he said.

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