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Chugging along or stuck in the mud?

22 February 2006

Chugging along or stuck in the mud? Does the 'Little Red Tractor' really help consumers find good food?

A report published today (Wednesday 19 January 2005) by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) calls for improvements to food assurance schemes to offer better choice for consumers in terms of environmental, welfare and nutritional issues.

‘Sustainability Implications of the Little Red Tractor Scheme’ analyses the main stamp of approval for British food, set up in 2000 to reassure people on food safety, animal welfare and environmental impacts. It claims that the Little Red Tractor (LRT), now managed by Assured Food Standards (AFS), does not go far enough.

The report concludes that the LRT:

  • Meets minimum regulatory requirements, and has an effective approach to regulation and on-farm inspection
  • Provides minimum reassurance on food safety, animal welfare and, to a lesser extent, environmental imperatives
  • Fails to cover many other issues relating to aspects of sustainable food production and land management, including broader public health issues
  • Fails to set a standard that will encourage farmers to significantly improve their practices
  • Could mislead consumers into believing the scheme is a symbol of food produced to standards compatible with sustainable development principles, through the wording on the LRT website, which states that the standards “cover all aspects of production on the farm from looking after the countryside to food hygiene and safety, what animals are fed, and how they are cared for.

SDC Chairman Jonathon Porritt said: “We believe consumers are now looking for assurance schemes to set standards that are significantly above the legal minimum, that are properly regulated and inspected, and that are communicated to the public so people know exactly what they are paying for. We would like AFS to ensure consumers understand what the LRT signifies. And we would like the Government to actively encourage schemes and standards that significantly exceed the current LRT, not least to ensure that UK farmers do not lose out any more to imported produce that doesn’t even meet the LRT baseline”.

The report states: “The levels of current LRT standards do not provide customers with an assurance that products marked with the logo are ‘sustainable food products’ And it’s uncertain at the moment whether AFS intends to seek improvements in the standards to meet consumers’ wider expectations.

The Commission is recommending that a more ambitious approach is needed, and is calling both for an improvement in the LRT standards, and for an assurance scheme that helps the consumer identify food products that significantly exceed the current LRT baseline. This could be done through either:

  • An amalgamation of existing assurance schemes, such as Freedom Food, LEAF, Conservation Grade, Fair Trade, etc; or
  • The creation of a freestanding, comprehensive assurance scheme based on standards that are compatible with the principles of sustainable food

» Read the full version of this press release (with additional notes)
» Download a copy of ‘Sustainability Implications of the Little Red Tractor Scheme’.

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