Red Tractor is to introduce a suite of beefed up ‘modular standards’ as part of a push to renew public confidence in the scheme and enable it to become “the flagship for British farming”.
The new standards, which are due to launch next year, would “substantially increase the strength and breadth” of Red Tractor’s food assurance regime, and would cover areas such as enhanced animal welfare, organic and environmentally sustainable production, it said.
Described as a “significant move” by CEO Jim Moseley, the new modules will sit alongside Red Tractor’s current core offering, and would be signposted with new consumer-facing labelling “to improve clarity for shoppers”.
Introducing an additional tier of accreditation would also help reduce costs for producers and create a “one stop shop” for assurance, added Moseley, who rejected concerns outlined by some industry insiders that developing the new standards represented a tacit recognition Red Tractor’s core scheme was insufficient.
“Our research shows there is a lot of consumer confusion over what some farm assurance schemes mean, so we hope this will give consumers a more informed choice,” Moseley said. “Our base standards are still extremely good standards, so the core product will always be there. But what we are now offering are other elements for which we feel there is a consumer demand.”
The announcement follows a turbulent six months for the scheme - after a series of food safety and animal welfare breaches were uncovered at Red Tractor-assured businesses - and comes as Red Tractor prepares to roll out a toughened and more risk-based farm inspection programme from November.
Farms that failed its standards would now find themselves the focus of a tougher inspection regime with greater inspection frequency and unannounced inspections, it said, in a move that would “improve the integrity of the scheme”.
It comes as Red Tractor also prepares to launch its first ever TV ad campaign tomorrow (12 September), with a £1.5m ad push debuting on ITV during Emmerdale.
“Our vision is that Red Tractor is seen by shoppers, farmers and the food industry as the flagship of British food and farming,” Moseley said. However, he stressed the improvements to the scheme did not represent “kneejerk” reactions to the bad publicity faced by Red Tractor in recent months, and had been in development for some time.
“We know shoppers are increasingly looking for simple signposts to traceable, safe and responsibly produced food, which is why we are looking to extend the remit of Red Tractor.”
The new standards were welcomed by the likes of the NFU, National Sheep Association, AHDB and the National Pig Association, in addition to the Co-op, Aldi and Morrisons, which said they would give customers “increased confidence about the standard of animal husbandry on British farms”.