Assured Food Standards Red Tractor May Be Failing UK Farmers, Consumers and the Environment

A recent report published by the Nature Friendly Farming Network, with the support of Pesticide Action Network UK and RSPB, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, reveals that Red Tractor, the UK’s largest food standards label, is ‘failing to regulate’ pesticides, which may tarnish their reputation as a label of stronger environmental protection.

“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 on human health or the environment”, said Josie Cohen, Head of Policy and Campaigns at PAN UK.

Red Tractor certifies around 50,000 farmers across the UK and covers the entire food supply chain, including animal welfare, food safety, traceability and environmental protection. Their logo appears on a wide range of UK products, including meat, vegetables and dairy.

The report identifies inadequacies within Red Tractor’s approach to pesticides, including the lack of any targets to reduce use, as well as failing to demand certified farmers to adopt some farming standards, such as the use of beneficial insects to control pests, selecting pest and disease resistant crop varieties, rotating crops regularly and applying less harmful bio-pesticides.

Martin Lines, co-author of the report, farmer and Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, said:

“Our interviews with Red Tractor certified farmers have revealed that the standards are barely encouraging, let alone supporting, farmers to reduce their pesticide use. There are many UK farmers working hard to switch to using non-chemical alternatives and its time Red Tractor, as our largest farm and food assurance scheme, becomes a key player in driving the transition to more sustainable farming systems. Farmers want, and need, their support to work with nature instead of against it”.

The authors of the report conducted various interviews and surveys with three of the UK’s largest supermarkets, revealing a significant gap between how Red Tractor is viewed by consumers and retailers.

The public perception of Red Tractor certified farmers is that they operate under stricter obligations compared to their non-certified counterparts, whereas supermarkets view them as a baseline standard, which doesn’t go beyond assuring that farmers are sticking to national pesticides laws and regulations.

“Confirming that farmers are abiding by the law should be a role for the Government, rather than a private company like Red Tractor. People understandably expect standards to go beyond the law to offer a higher level of environmental protection, for wildlife and society. We urge Red Tractor to strengthen its approach to pesticides so that farmers feel supported to reduce their use, and retailers and their customers can rest assured that a Red Tractor means that food has been grown more sustainably”, said Steph Morren, Senior Policy Officer at RSPB.

The authors of the report are prepared and committed to work with Red Tractor in order to implement a set of recommendations, including prohibiting the use of the most harmful pesticides by selecting non-chemical alternatives, placing more emphasis on non-chemical methods for managing pests, diseases and weeds, introducing measures to support farmers, amongst many others.

It’s a well-documented fact that pesticides are silent, invisible and ruthless killers. They can have a long lasting and tragic effect on our health and the environment, causing diseases from mild to severe, such as depression, allergies, cancer, liver disease, DNA damage, reproductive failure, endocrine disruption and many more. They can also impact our environment leading to groundwater contamination, micro biome disruption, air pollution, poisoning of birds, mammals, fish and bees.

The intensive use of pesticides may also influence our immunological system promoting obesity and vulnerability to COVID-19.

Food production is one of the sectors that may be hit the most due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict and Brexit, therefore we must make sure that food quality standards are not lowered and heavily impacted, and as consumers, we may end up having to compromise on our health and the environment.

“The most alarming of all man’s assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with a dangerous and even lethal materials. This pollution is for the most part irrecoverable; the chain of evil it initiates not only in the world that must support life, but in living tissues is for the most part irreversible”- Rachel Carson (Silent Spring – 1962).

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