Greater action is required to improve Red Tractor’s current approach to pesticide reduction according to a new report published by the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN).
The Sub Standard report, published by Pesticide Action Network UK and RSPB, states that Red Tractor urgently needs to review and strengthen its promotion of non-chemical pesticide alternatives including integrated pest management.
It also highlighted the scheme’s lack of targets to reduce pesticide use and its failure to require certified farmers to adopt alternative approaches such as selecting pest and disease resistant crop varieties, crop rotations and using biopesticides.
The report argues that Red Tractor could be a key player in helping to establish a sustainable UK farming system that is less reliant on inputs and make a major contribution towards reducing pesticide reliance.
Sub Standard finds that Red Tractor is missing an opportunity to provide a strong and coherent framework for addressing pesticide use. It also identifies how the food assurance scheme can support its certified farmers to demonstrate best practise to consumers and add value to their businesses.
The authors of the report consulted farmers in a focus group and survey to identify what Red Tractor could do to help drive the uptake of integrated pest management (IPM), including improved access to training, guidance and information. It concludes that if the scheme’s requirements were strengthened significantly it would not only improve the diversity and resilience of farming ecosystems and drive positive change within farm businesses by reducing variable costs.
The report includes key recommendations for Red Tractor to raise its IPM standards, including introducing goals or targets for reduction applied to the totality of pesticide usage on certified farms as a whole, rather than farm-level targets, and recognises the need for targets to be flexible in response to changing weather and crop conditions.
Martin Lines, co-author of the report, farmer and Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, said: “There will always be a balance to strike between pesticide reduction and the quality and quantity of the crop produced, but Red Tractor has an opportunity to provide the right support and guidance in driving uptake of IPM. This is more than achievable, but most importantly, incredibly necessary.
“If Red Tractor can demonstrate a reduction in pesticide use and enable best practice in IPM, it could help facilitate a route to nature recovery and connect its certified farmers to consumers at a time when the public wants greater clarity – and trust – in their food labels. By improving IPM uptake, Red Tractor can help its farmers demonstrate world-leading environmental delivery and give a competitive advantage in a changing marketplace.”
Josie Cohen, head of policy and campaigns at PAN UK, added: “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 to human health or the environment.”
The report’s interviews and surveys with three of the UK’s largest supermarkets revealed their unanimous view of Red Tractor as a baseline standard which does not go beyond confirming that farmers are sticking to national pesticide laws and regulations.
Steph Morren, senior policy officer at RSPB, said: “Confirming that farmers are abiding by the law should be a role for 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 for 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 logo means that food has been grown more sustainably.”
The authors are keen to work with Red Tractor to implement the detailed set of recommendations included in the report. Their headline recommendations for Red Tractor include:
- Establish and monitor targets to reduce the total amount of pesticides used by Red Tractor certified farmers
- Prohibit the use of the most harmful pesticides and require farmers to select non-chemical alternatives when available.
- Adapt the requirements of its standard to include a specific focus on pesticide use and hazard reduction, and place more emphasis on preventative and non-chemical methods for managing pests, diseases and weeds
- Introduce measures designed to support farmers to make continuous improvements on reducing pesticide use and adopting non-chemical approaches.
Red Tractor response
A Red Tractor spokesperson said: “Red Tractor’s voluntary scheme is the bedrock of progressive farming in Britain – assuring food that is responsibly produced.
“The UK is one of the most regulated markets. Our standards align with Defra’s National Action Plan for Pesticides and aim to meet IPM expectations linked to the Sustainable Farming Incentive.
“Where farms are asked to go further, a clear rationale is needed, especially given increasing competition from imports. UK fresh produce already has lower levels of pesticide residues than imported products and this must be considered alongside the delivery of safe, affordable food.”
Further to this, Red Tractor has provided some background information as proof that it is meeting the requirements of its members.
- We welcome constructive suggestions about how our standards could evolve to meet key challenges and IPM-based strategies will be central to the future management of pests and disease on farm.
- The strong reputation of Red Tractor assured producers is underpinned by a joined-up approach with stakeholders, including BASIS and the Voluntary Initiative (VI), to create a professional framework for safe, responsible pesticide use within an IPM framework – something that is rarely replicated in other countries.
- Red Tractor is the UK’s largest food standards scheme, with 46,000 British farm members.
- Red Tractor was established in 2000 to reassure consumers that British food and drink is ‘safe and responsibly produced’. Today, it is the UK’s largest food standards scheme, and the logo is recognised by four out of five consumers.
- The UK’s major supermarkets are seeking to reduce pesticides in their supply chains – many are working with PAN UK to strengthen their policies. Red Tractor certification is often used to prove they’re doing all they can to ensure suppliers are using pesticides responsibly.
- It is important to recognise that growers may already exceed market access expectations applied to imports, but do not always receive a premium or improved market access for this. We must work in partnership with stakeholders to ensure we do not simply offshore this challenge.
You can reader a wider statement about the report on the Red Tractor website