Red Tractor is urging farmers to respond to a new consultation on future standards across all six of the scheme’s sectors.
The two-month consultation will focus on three ‘headline changes’, which are based on worker welfare, environmental protection and moving the scheme towards outcome-based standards for animal welfare.
Red Tractor chief executive Jim Moseley warned industry needed to introduce worker welfare standards to prevent large corporations with little knowledge of agriculture from imposing them on farmers in future.
Speaking during a press briefing ahead of the launch of the consultation, he said: “Lots of grocery companies will be looking to ensure their suppliers are following everything they possibly can with regard to worker welfare, and delivery of the Modern Slavery Act would be one element.
“A lot of small farmers will not come under that Modern Slavery Act because of the size of the operation or their turnover, but the grocery suppliers further up the chain will want to ensure the worker welfare practices even on those smaller farms are being adopted and protect themselves.
“What Red Tractor is trying to do is take a gently-gently approach to worker welfare by introducing things where even the small farm can demonstrate they are taking measures to ensure the welfare of their employees.”
On animal welfare, Red Tractor is planning a shift to more outcome scoring in dairy, and intends to make outcomes a ‘much more core part’ of future standards.
New environmental protection standards will also adapt legal requirements on reducing soil erosion and nutrient run-off into measures which can be easily assessed on farm.
It is intended that the final standards will be published in June or July, with inspections beginning on November 1.
Farmers sitting on Red Tractor’s commodity boards previously expressed their disappointment after scheme leaders refused to delay the consultation.
Though they accepted the need to review and improve standards, they suggested early 2021 was not the right time for a consultation, with the Brexit transition period just coming to an end and Covid restrictions preventing face-to-face meetings.
But Mr Moseley said one of the benefits of lockdown was sector boards and technical advisory committees were able to meet more frequently than they would ordinarily.
He also pointed out the review had already come one year later than it typically would, and claimed there was a risk Red Tractor would ‘lose some of its value’ if standards did not keep up with consumer needs.
The consultation will close on March 5 and can be accessed at redtractor.citizenspace.com.