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Today’s blog is written by Steph Morren, senior policy officer, on why Red Tractor standards on pesticides need to be improved.

new report reveals that Red Tractor – the UK’s largest food standards label – is lagging behind on tackling pesticides, undermining claims that its logo is a marker of stronger environmental protection. Sub Standard, the report published by the Nature Friendly Farming Network with the support of Pesticide Action Network UK and RSPB – highlights a range of improvements that Red Tractor urgently needs to make in order to meaningfully contribute to pesticide reduction in the UK.


As the UK’s biggest farm and food assurance scheme which certifies around 50,000 farmers, Red Tractor clearly has a significant role to play in helping to drive the changes to the farming sector that have been outlined by the Government in response to demands from the British public. Red Tractor is viewed by both the general public and many key decision-makers as offering a guarantee that food featuring its logo has been grown in a more environmentally-friendly way than its non-certified equivalent.

However, a closer look at the detail of Red Tractor’s standards on pesticide reduction and Integrated Pest Management (IPM)1 reveal that, in many ways, Red Tractor has fallen behind other stakeholders and that its standards urgently need updating.

In order to better understand Red Tractor’s current approach to pesticide reduction and IPM, and identify ways in which its efforts in these areas could be improved, the authors of the report consulted with two of Red Tractor’s key stakeholders – farmers and UK supermarkets.


What did farmers say?

Farmers felt Red Tractor offered very little or no guidance on the uptake and use of IPM and was ineffective in helping to reduce pesticide use. They told the authors that there is an urgent need for the Red Tractor assurance scheme to be reviewed and strengthened around IPM, pesticide reduction and non-chemical methods of pest control.

Martin Lines, co-author of the report, farmer and Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, said: “Our interviews with Red Tractor certified farmers have revealed that the standards are barely encouraging – let alone supporting – farmers to reduce their pesticide use. There are many UK farmers working hard to switch to using non-chemical alternatives and it’s time Red Tractor, as our largest farm and food assurance scheme, becomes a key player in driving the transition to more sustainable farming systems. Farmers want – and need – their support to work with nature instead of against it.”


What do supermarkets think?

As part of the process of consulting with UK supermarkets, it became apparent that Red Tractor standards are now lagging behind the policies and practices of many major supermarkets in terms of reducing pesticide use and encouraging the adoption of non-chemical alternatives. Whether the focus was on plans to phase out Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs), the support in place to help farmers reduce their pesticide use and adopt non-chemical controls, or the monitoring systems in place for usage and residues, Red Tractor standards appear to be lower than those of many supermarkets. The interviews conducted for this project with two of the UK’s largest supermarkets revealed that they agree that Red Tractor is not doing enough on pesticides or IPM, and could go much further.


Summary of key recommendations to Red Tractor:

  • Red Tractor should 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 pest, disease and weeds. Examples include:
    • Increased requirements on uptake of nature-based alternatives
    • Lists of specific pesticides that are monitored, restricted or prohibited.
    • Goals or targets aimed at reducing the amount of pesticides used by Red Tractor certified farmers as a whole.
  • Red Tractor should introduce a range of measures designed to support farmers to make continuous improvements on reducing pesticide use, including having access to appropriate advice, support and information on pesticide usage and IPM.
  • Red Tractor should work with other stakeholders within the agriculture industry to drive pesticide reduction and IPM uptake.
  • Any changes to Red Tractor’s IPM requirements and other pesticide-related measures should be developed transparently and in collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders including farmers, agronomists, civil society groups and farming organisations.

The RSPB and others are currently working with Government on pesticide policy – ensuring that farmers are supported to reduce their reliance on pesticides and ensure wildlife is protected. As the UK’s largest certification scheme, Red Tractor has a vital role to play, and that is why we felt this report was important to write. RSPB and the other authors of the report are keen to work with Red Tractor to help implement at least some of these recommendations.

Visit PAN UK’s website here to find out more, including how to let Red Tractor know your views.

Foot note:

1 - Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an approach to managing pests, diseases or unwanted plants under which chemical pesticides are used only as a last resort, if at all.

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