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Source: Red Tractor

The Sub Standard report claimed Red Tractor was missing an opportunity to become a key player in reducing pesticide reliance in the UK

Red Tractor has failed on pesticide rules and has undermined public perception that the logo is a marker of strong environmental protection, a new report has claimed.

The report, Sub Standard, from the Nature Friendly Farming Network (with support from Pesticide Action Network UK and RSPB) stated that Red Tractor had a lack of targets to reduce pesticide use and failed to require certified farmers to adopt alternative approaches.

The UK’s largest food standards label certifies 50,000 farmers across the UK. However, the report, published today (15 March) claimed the body was missing an opportunity to become a key player in reducing pesticide reliance in the UK.

Sub Standard highlighted a raft of improvements Red Tractor needed to make to keep pace with trends on pesticide reduction. Some of these techniques included making use of beneficial insects to control pests, selecting pest and disease-resistant crop varieties, rotating crops regularly and applying less harmful biopesticides.

“Our interviews with Red Tractor-certified farmers have revealed that the standards are barely encouraging – let alone supporting – farmers to reduce their pesticide use,” said Martin Lines, co-author of the report, farmer and chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network. “Farmers want – and need – their support to work with nature instead of against it.”

Josie Cohen, head of policy and campaigns at PAN UK, said: “If we’re to have any hope of solving the biodiversity crisis then we must move away from our dependence on pesticides.

“But Red Tractor standards continue to prioritise the use of chemicals, without placing limits on how much or where they can be used. Unlike many UK supermarkets, Red Tractor allows its farmers to use any legal pesticide product, regardless of concerns over impacts to human health or the environment.”

The report also revealed that supermarkets saw Red Tractor as a baseline standard that did not go beyond confirming farmers were following laws and regulations. This differed from the consumer perception that Red Tractor had stricter obligations than non-certified farmers.

Sub Standard identified that Red Tractor could improve uptake of integrated pest management (IPM) techniques – which encourage the use of as few chemicals as possible – by improving access access to training, guidance and information, a move that would be seen favourably by farmers, accoridng to consultation exercies undertaken by the authors, which would “not only help to improve the diversity and resilience of farm ecosystems, but also drive positive change within farm businesses by reducing variable costs”. 

Additionally, to improve IPM, the report recommended that Red Tractor introduce goals for reduction of pesticide usage on certified farms as a whole which recognise the need to be flexible responding to weather and crop conditions.

A Red Tractor spokesman said: “Red Tractor’s voluntary scheme is the bedrock of progressive farming in Britain – assuring food that is responsibly produced.

“This report makes some constructive suggestions about how Red Tractor standards could evolve to meet key challenges, and we welcome this contribution.”