Red Tractor have announced plans to create a new, tiered system of standards to reward high animal welfare and environmental production methods and give consumers greater confidence in the products they buy. This comes after they were criticised for low standards, particularly following Jamie Oliver’s public statement that he would refuse to buy Red Tractor chicken, claiming ‘minimum standards’ are not good enough. Sustainable Food Trust Chief Exec Patrick Holden also commented on this issue in a short video on his farm, calling for a “move towards welfare-friendly livestock systems, so that consumers can buy with confidence.”

Following Red Tractor’s recent plans, Patrick Holden says, “The real opportunity here is for the emergence of an internationally harmonised framework for farm sustainability assessment, which ideally could be used by Red Tractor, Leaf, RSPCA Assured and organic certifiers, as well as government agencies and retailers.

The emergence of such a framework will depend on collaboration between all existing certifiers and sustainability assessors. It is a golden opportunity, since at present many farmers are having to submit themselves to multiple overlapping audits. In my case, on our vertically integrated dairy farm and cheese-making operation in West Wales, we are annually assessed by Red Tractor, British Retail Consortium and an organic certification body, in addition to providing overlapping data and information to the Welsh Assembly Government in order to qualify for our area payment and stewardship schemes.

This duplication of effort is time consuming and expensive for farmers, inefficient and bureaucratic for agencies and ultimately confusing for consumers.”

The Sustainable Food Trust is working to help bring about a convergence of farm assessments. You can find out more about this work here.

Photograph: James West

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