Do You Trust The Tractor?

BY BEN EAGLE

As a nation we pride ourselves in aspiring to produce food that is of high quality and we hold animal welfare standards in similarly high regard. Post Brexit all the rhetoric coming out of Defra at the moment suggests that Brand Britannia Farming will be focused as much as possible on producing high welfare, high quality food that has minimal impact on the natural environment, with regulations to match. When it comes to food packaging however consumers are already faced with treading a minefield, with numerous labels vying for our attention, all pointing towards a subtly different set of standards or messages. Most savvy shoppers will be aware of the majority of them, from the Soil Association’s organic label to the RSPCA Assured stamp, the LEAF marque and of course the Red Tractor label for ‘assured food standards’. But, do we know the ins and outs of each label, especially Red Tractor which is the largest food scheme in the UK?

Red Tractor is used on numerous products, from fruit and veg to meat and dairy. The scheme follows the product from field to fork and covers everything from traceability and animal welfare to food safety and environmental standards. Critically it also shows that the product has been produced in the UK. It should be said that the standards are not as aspirational or as high as organic standards, but Red Tractor Assurance (RTA) is a mark of food safety and allows people unable to afford organic produce a guarantee that the food has achieved a certain standard. High quality and high standards ultimately cost the producer more and this is why consumers are asked to pay more for higher standards. As a nation generally, we seem happy to go along with this. It’s critical that if we want high animal welfare, a healthy environment and food produced to a high quality we must be willing to pay for it, either directly at the checkout in our food bill or through our taxes and a subsidy system.

Red Tractor recently announced that they are planning to launch their first ever national television advertising campaign later this year. Although many shoppers are aware of what the stamp means this is not the case for everyone and so it’s hoped that this greater exposure will do a lot to educate consumers on the standards system, if only in the basic way you can through a TV ad. Some, including celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, have questioned the suitability of Red Tractor food and said that he wouldn’t feed his children Red Tractor produce because it ‘’only meets the bottom standard of animal welfare’’. It is true that there are producers who work to an even higher standard than the Red Tractor line and it is up to the consumer to make the choice they feel is fit. If you buy meat that has the RSPCA label on as well as Red Tractor then you can be assured that the animal has been raised to both sets of standards. Similarly if you buy organic food with either the Soil Association label or another organic certifier such as Organic Farmers and Growers  you can be assured they meet these standards. It’s a matter of personal choice. However, it’s up to us all to make sure we know what each standard really means.

To find out more about logos on food packaging click here.

Ben Eagle writes about farming, the environment and the countryside. He blogs at thinkingcountry.com, tweets at @benjy_eagle and you can listen to his Meet the Farmers podcast on iTunes.

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