Red Tractor (RT) plans to become a ‘one stop shop’ for farm assurance by creating a new tiered system of standards to reward those whose production methods go above and beyond for animal welfare and the environment and give consumers greater confidence in the products they buy.
In what RT chief executive Jim Moseley described as some of the biggest changes to the marque in its 19 year history, the revamped scheme will become a ‘flagship’ of British food and farming.
It will also reward those who consistently meet the standards’ criteria and see the introduction of more frequent and unannounced inspections for those who do not.
The use of technology will also improve the regime. Inspection data will be collected in an online portal saving time on visits and allowing data to be shared with RT and, potentially, other stakeholders, in real-time.
The changes nod to the ‘gold standard’ Defra Secretary Michael Gove told this year’s Oxford Farming Conference he would like to see post-Brexit, with one standard metric to symbolise food and farming quality.
While Mr Moseley agreed the principles of the new look RT scheme were in line with Mr Gove’s gold standard, he said the revamp had been in the pipeline for more than 12 months and were not in response to a call from Defra.
“If the net result can contribute to Defra’s objectives then that is fine,” Mr Moseley told a press briefing in London this week.
“But this is about offering consumers a broader choice, strengthening the inspection regime and taking a more risk-based approach.
"We know shoppers are increasingly looking for more informed choice and simple signposts to traceable, safe and responsibly produced food, which is why we are looking to extend the remit of Red Tractor.”
RT has been in talks with Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) and the Soil Association and intends to speak to the RSPCA about ‘collaborating’ to form one ‘complete assurance’ standard.
Mr Moseley said these discussions were still in their infancy and it was too early to comment on how any new logos would look or how consumers could differentiate between the tiers.
It was likely money would be ploughed into a public facing campaign to educate consumers on what the new standards meant.
The new suite of modular standards will cover areas such as enhanced animal welfare, organic and environmentally sustainable production will sit alongside RT’s current core offering.
Mr Moseley said RT wanted farmers to ‘aspire’ to meet the highest standards but insisted those producers who met the minimum RT standards would not be marginalised.
The new tougher regime will begin in November 2018 for full roll-out across all farms in 2019.
NFU president Minette Batters said the union supported the move to risk-based inspections as it would help ensure the scheme remains relevant and robust, giving confidence to buyers.
She added: “We recognise this new approach to inspections needs to be practical at farm level and we will be working with Red Tractor to ensure that this is the case.”
The move was also welcomed by retailers including Morrisons, Aldi and Co-op.
Andrew Thornber, Morrisons Market Street and manufacturing trading director said: "Red Tractor’s new measures - including unannounced visits - should give customers increased confidence about the standard of animal husbandry on British farms and are therefore to be welcomed. As British farming’s single biggest supermarket customer, we buy directly from farmers we know and trust and it is helpful to have this additional assurance."
It came as RT launched its £1.5 million national television campaign, with the first advert due to air during Emmerdale on ITV on Wednesday, September 12, to communicate to consumers how RT food is safe, traceable and farmed with care, and urges them look out for the Red Tractor label on produce when shopping.
RT research has shown shoppers are twice as likely to buy Red Tractor labelled produce when they understand the meaning behind the label.
Mr Moseley said 68 per cent of shoppers were aware of the logo and out of those, 58 per cent were positively influenced by it because they knew it was demonstrative of high standards. "When they understood what it meant they were twice as likely to look for the logo," he added.