Red Tractor lettuce

Toughened rules on biosecurity and reducing antibiotic and pesticide use have been rubber-stamped by the Red Tractor assurance scheme ahead of implementation in October.

The amended standards include “wholesale changes” for growers, in a bid to significantly strengthen the sector “to protect and enhance the reputation of the UK’s fresh produce growers”, the scheme said.

Much of the focus was on food safety and “about having more preventative actions to produce safe, uncontaminated food that is free from foreign bodies”, it added, following several incidents of contamination and disease from produce in Europe during the past few years.

Growers will have to adhere to tightened and more crop-specific rules on preventing contamination in fields and packhouses, reducing the use of pesticide metaldehyde, and using water more sustainably.

The new standards, which will be sent to producers in July, also include previously announced controls on antibiotic use in the pig supply chain, including the use of an electronic medicine book to measure how often drugs are used.

“With all the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, we have to promote British agriculture, demonstrating the exceptionally high standards our farmers and growers deliver,” said new Red Tractor CEO Jim Moseley.

“We have strengthened standards which have been identified as key areas of reputation risk and addressed industry concerns to keep our members ahead of the game.”

The new standards would require changes in farm management for some, “but we also know that continuing to invest in a robust farm assurance scheme will keep consumers coming back to Red Tractor assured products”, he added.

“We believe we have a set of standards our global agricultural competitors would envy and it is my ambition to reinforce that message as I lead Red Tractor into the future.”