The Red Tractor scheme, used to mark food produced to a ‘high standard’, fails to regulate the use of pesticides on farms, according to a report.
As the largest agricultural and food assurance scheme in the UK, which certifies around 50,000 farmers, Red Tractor is responsible for ensuring compliance with environmental standards. The products are sold in all major UK supermarkets.
However, most farmers surveyed by the Nature Friendly Farming Network said the program did not help them reduce pesticides.
Overall, farmers felt that Red Tractor did not help them meaningfully consider their pesticide management and was ineffective in helping them reduce pesticide use. Only five of 24 survey respondents said they had been encouraged by Red Tractor to review their pesticide management.
Martin Lines, co-author of the report and president of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, said: “Our interviews with Red Tractor certified farmers revealed that the standards hardly encourage – let alone support – farmers to reduce their use. of pesticides.
“Many UK farmers are working hard to switch to using non-chemical alternatives and it is time for Red Tractor, as our largest agricultural and food insurance scheme, to become a key player in driving the transition. towards more sustainable agricultural systems. Farmers want – and need – their support to work with nature rather than against it.
The report also pointed out that Red Tractor had no targets to reduce the use of these harmful chemicals. Recent studies have revealed alarming global declines in insect populations, with more than 40% of insect species declining and a third endangered. Along with habitat loss, pesticides have been identified as one of the main factors behind these declines. In the UK, butterflies have declined by 50% since 1976 and 13 species of bees have disappeared.
Perhaps due to the decline of insects, higher up the food chain, farmland birds have declined by 54% since 1970 and hedgehog numbers have dropped by up to 50% in rural areas since 2002.
Additionally, the pesticides that pose the highest risks to human health and the environment, known by the UN as “highly hazardous pesticides,” are not targeted for phase-out by the program. The Red Tractor standards do not include any additional restrictions on the pesticides farmers are allowed to use.
Josie Cohen, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Pesticide Action Network UK, said: “If we are to have any hope of solving the biodiversity crisis, we need to move away from our reliance on pesticides. But Red Tractor’s standards continue to prioritize the use of chemicals, with no 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 about impacts on human health or the environment.
Red Tractor responded that the industry as a whole needed to change its attitude towards pesticides, otherwise large numbers of farmers would be left behind and excluded from standards systems. He added that the new report “makes constructive suggestions about how Red Tractor content can evolve to meet these challenges and we welcome this contribution to the debate.”