Environmental charity River Action has filed three complaints to the Advertising Standard Authority against Red Tractor. It has accused the agricultural assurance scheme of facilitating greenwashing on what it calls “an industrial scale”.
This follows an assessment carried out by the Environment Agency in 2020, which concluded that Red Tractor membership was “not currently an indicator of good environmental performance” and that Red Tractor farms are more likely than other farms to cause pollution incidents.
River Action says that it “believes that the environmental claims made by Red Tractor via its advertising, website and YouTube content are misleading about the environmental standards with which its assurance scheme purports to guarantee compliance.”
The charity believes there is strong evidence that many Red Tractor-assured farms do not meet high levels of environmental protection and in many cases do not even comply with legal minimum standards.
This view is based on an assessment carried out by the Environment Agency in 2020, which revealed that Red Tractor Assured farms were responsible for the majority of instances of agricultural pollution over a five-year period.
The assessment revealed that of a total 4,064 pollution incidents, Red Tractor farms were responsible for 62% of category 1 and 2 incidents and 56% of category 3 incidents. Significantly, the report concluded that Red Tractor farms were less compliant (26%) with Environment Agency inspections compared to non-Red Tractor farms (19%). As a result of this assessment, a request by Red Tractor for its assured farms to benefit from Environment Agency “Preferred Status” was denied.
Red Tractor has hit back, though the assurance scheme has only commented on pollution incidents linked to dairy farms. They say that the claim in relation to dairy production is “inaccurate, misleading and a disservice to Red Tractor dairy farmers.”
While the data in the Environment Agency report does show that the sector with the largest volume of pollution incidents is dairy, Red Tractor says that it also shows that pollution incidents took place on only 8% of Red Tractor Dairy farms, while there were incidents on 77% of non Red Tractor Dairy farms.
The assurance scheme recognises that reducing agricultural pollution is important, but says that this is a difficult problem which requires action from across the industry, including from Red Tractor and the Environment Agency.
Charles Watson, Chairman of River Action said “A growing body of evidence is now building which clearly shows that many Red Tractor farms are in fact actively in breach of environmental regulations and are leading the pollution of our rivers.”