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River Action Issues Complaints to Advertising Standards Agency in response to Red Tractor’s Misleading Marketing Claims

Following legal advice, River Action has filed three complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), after a strong body of evidence suggests that Red Tractor’s advertising, website and YouTube content is misleading consumers about the environmental standards with which its assurance scheme purports to guarantee compliance.

Red Tractor, the UK’s biggest farm and food assurance scheme, advertises its standards with promotional materials that suggest its assurance standards will ensure a high degree of environmental protection claiming that their farms take: “a preventative approach to protect the environment, and animal health and welfare. That means minimising the use of pesticides and herbicides, and other plant protection products so that they are only applied when necessary. We also require farms to have stringent pollution and soil management strategies”.

However, 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.

An assessment carried out by the Environment Agency (EA) in 2020, 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, RT farms were responsible for 62% of category 1 and 2 incidents and 56% of category 3 incidents. Significantly, the Report concluded that RT farms were less compliant (26%) with EA inspections compared to non-RT farms (19%). As a result of this assessment, a request by Red Tractor for its assured farms to benefit from EA “Preferred Status” was denied.

This conclusion is consistent with those of a previous EA report of a case study carried out by the EA between 2016 and 2022 in North Devon. The EA found that, of the 101 farms visited, 87% were non-compliant with environmental regulations despite all being Red Tractor members.

In the context of this growing body of evidence of poor environmental performance by Red Tractor Assured farms, River Action believes that the claims on Red Tractor’s website, YouTube channel and most recent TV advert are misleading to consumers and that, Red Tractor membership is “not a signifier of good performance”.

Commenting on Red Tractor’s certification scheme, Charles Watson, Chairman of River Action said:

“Intensive agriculture is one of the single biggest polluters of our rivers – particularly in the major livestock sectors such as dairy and poultry production. The products of these polluting industries cram the shelves of all our supermarkets and in many cases they carry the logo of the Red Tractor certification scheme, which claims to endorse good environmental standards. 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. We are resolved to call out this greenwashing, which appears to be happening on an industrial scale similar to that of the agricultural mal-practice that hides behind it.”

Ricardo Gama from Leigh Day, the law firm advising River Action, added

“The ASA code has specific rules for environmental claims in promotional materials, to stem a tide of greenwashing as advertisers try to convince the public that their goods and services aren’t contributing to the environmental crisis. The problem with Red Tractor is that they claim to enforce strict environmental standards, but that simply doesn’t appear to tally with the findings of the Environment Agency, including that Red Tractor farms were more likely to be non-compliant with inspections than non-Red Tractor farms. This is a pressing issue, as the Red Tractor mark appears to be masking agriculture’s role as one of Britain’s most environmentally destructive industries.”