Leading retailers have voiced their support for the Red Tractor brand and scheme, which has faced a barrage of farmer criticism in recent weeks, since launching its latest review of standards.
In particular, cereal growers have questioned the lack of value for their produce, when milling wheat and oilseed rape are readily mixed with imported materials which do not meet the same high production standards.
Many have also questioned the level of red tape involved in the independent auditing process, while others have complained that the policing is too strict, with farmer members pulled up for the most minor infringements.
But a statement from the British Retail Consortium – backed by retailers Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Greggs, Lidl, M&S, McDonald’s, Morrisons and Waitrose – has emphasised its “strong support” for Red Tractor and the review.
“We believe the consultation is important, as regular reviews keep the standards relevant for the millions of our customers who look for Red Tractor products in our stores,” it said.
It was right that all stakeholders had an opportunity to question the direction and speed of progress of the evolution of the standards, it added. “However, one thing which shouldn’t be questioned is the value of the scheme itself.
“Red Tractor is crucial in underpinning our brands; it gives our consumers the reassurance on production and environmental standards they demand.”
It also claimed that having a co-ordinated, national scheme meant farmers had access to the whole retail market, and increasingly the out-of-home market.
“And we believe it has helped farmers improve standards and productivity, benefiting them and ensuring they are meeting consumer demand here in the UK, and putting them in the best position to take advantage of emerging markets.”
The consortium encouraged all farmers to engage constructively with the consultation “to ensure it continues to grow and opens up new opportunities”.
The Agricultural Industries Confederation, representing farm suppliers, has also insisted that Red Tractor is an essential component of its members’ supply chains.
“AIC is not responsible for making or setting the standards at farm level, but recognises existing farm standards are required at food retail and food service level by all in the supply chain,” it said.
And, while equivalent schemes might not be found in many grain exporting countries, AIC members still had to demonstrate compliance with UK limits on pesticides, heavy metals, mycotoxins and more on imported materials.