Environmental campaign group River Action is seeking legal advice regarding making a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) against Red Tractor, the UK’s biggest farm and food assurance scheme, which certifies about 50,000 farms nationwide. This follows Red Tractor’s apparent failure to comply with ASA codes given the conclusions of an Environment Agency (EA) report titled “Assessment of the Environmental Performance of Red Tractor Farms”. This revealed that the majority of agricultural pollution incidents in England were carried out by RTA farms.
For example, RTA farms accounted for 62% of Category 1 & 2 pollution incidents (the most severe incidents) and 56% of Category 3 pollution incidents. In the case of the dairy industry, which accounted for the largest number of pollution incidents (48% of the total), RTA farms accounted for 74% of Category 1 & 2 incidents and 66% of Category 3 incidents, with slurry being the single largest cause of pollution. RTA farms were also revealed to be less compliant with environmental regulations (26%) than non RTA farms (19%).
The report, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, was completed in February 2020 and its assessment, described by the EA as “comprehensive”, is based on data from across 5 calendar years, 3,000 EA farm inspections and over 4,000 agricultural pollution incidents.
Accordingly, River Action has instructed its lawyers Leigh Day to investigate whether Red Tractor assurance is compliant with the Advertising Standards Authority Code, with particular regard to whether claims made on Red Tractor’s website are legal and honest.
Given Red Tractor’s statement that “All of the major British supermarkets use Red Tractor standards as part of their food sourcing and supplier specification”, River Action has also written to the CEO’s of the UK’s four biggest supermarket retailers to seek clarification of the extent RTA is used in the environmental certification and procurement policies of their UK-sourced product ranges.
Commenting on the EA’s report, Charles Watson, Chairman of River Action said: “These extraordinary findings by the Environment Agency confirm that the Red Tractor logo is essentially a certification of poor environmental performance. With every single river in the country polluted beyond its legal limits and agricultural pollution being a major cause of this environmental calamity, the fact that so many farms are causing pollution under the Red Tractor logo is a monumental scandal.”
Leigh Day solicitor Ricardo Gama added :“The evidence gathered by the Environment Agency appears to undermine the reliability of the Red Tractor scheme and bring into question whether its claims about environmental standards are honest and truthful, as required by the ASA Code, or amount to greenwashing. We are investigating this further with River Action.”
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About River Action
River Action is on a mission to rescue Britain's rivers from a toxic cocktail of agricultural, sewage and chemical pollution. It does this through empowering communities to protect and restore their rivers; mobilising public opinion to influence policy and enforce river protection; and advocating for urgent government policy and changes in industry practice.