Monday, 3 April 2023

Red Tractor farms are more likely to pollute the environment

I have an exclusive story in The Times today exposing a damning report from the Environment Agency (EA) about the Red Tractor scheme.

Last year I wrote a story for the Guardian about an EA report that I discovered from North Devon which was condemnatory of pollution caused by the dairy industry & the Red Tractor scheme.

In the wake of that story, I decided to keep digging and submitted a Freedom of Information request to the EA for all correspondence between them and Red Tractor.

Earlier this year, I received a response with tens of email attachments. I spent hours scanning through mundane emails before finding that one of the emails contained an attachment: an internal report authored by the Environment Agency in 2020 titled ‘Assessment of the environmental performance of Red Tractor Assured farms’. It runs to around 50 pages and is a significant piece of work. I had no idea such a report existed.

The contents are shocking. It concluded that “Red Tractor Assured farms were less compliant (26%) with EA inspections compared to non-RTA farms (19%)”. In other words, Red Tractor farms were more likely to fail EA environmental inspections than farms who aren’t members of the scheme. That’s the case for nearly every agricultural sector — including dairy, beef, pigs, poultry and arable crops — with RTA members being found to have lower compliance with environmental regulations. The one exception was Red Tractor farms growing fruit and veg in the horticulture sector which were found to have “relatively good” environmental performance.

The report also says Red Tractor farms have caused more serious pollution incidents than non-Red Tractor farms.

The EA report concluded, “Red Tractor membership is not currently an indicator of good environmental performance, and therefore we do not recommend extending Earned Recognition to RTA farms.”

The concept of ‘earned recognition’ means that if the EA could be confident that an assurance scheme guaranteed high standards of environmental protection, it could consider such farms lower risk for causing pollution and depriorotise them for regulatory inspections.

The Red Tractor logo is meant to assure consumers that its products are ‘farmed with care’. It’s even running TV adverts at the moment, voiced by Sara Cox, saying: “When the Red Tractor’s there, your food’s farmed with care”.

Can you trust the Tractor? The Environment Agency don’t think so.