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River Action to initiate Advertising Standards Authority complaint into Red Tractor Assurance scheme following damning environmental report

This week, following a damning report by the Environment Agency exposed by The Times, we are seeking legal advice on making a  complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) against Red Tractor, the UK’s biggest farm and food assurance scheme. The report revealed that the majority of agricultural pollution incidents in England were carried out by RTA farms. Yet Red Tractor claims that products bearing its logo are “responsibly sourced“. So we are investigating if the scheme fails to comply with advertising standards.

As the UK’s biggest farm and food assurance scheme, which certifies about 50,000 farmers nationwide, Red Tractor claims that “The Red Tractor logo is only found on British food and drink products that have been certified to rigorous standards from farms to pack. Our logo means that the food you buy has been responsibly sourced”.  However, EA’s findings reveal an alarming scale of non compliance with environmental regulations and polluting practices on Red Tractor Assured (RTA) farms. 

The report is based on data from 2014-2019, 3,000 EA farm inspections and over 4,000 agricultural pollution incidents. It reveals that 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 just under half of all pollution incidents, 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 findings of the report are also corroborated by other recent EA Reports, including an inspection of over 100 dairy farms in North Devon in 2022, which revealed that two-thirds of the farms inspected were causing river pollution, and virtually all of these were RTA farms.

In light of this shocking report, we’ve has instructed our lawyers Leigh Day to investigate whether the environmental claims made by Red Tractor are compliant with the Advertising Standards Authority Code, and whether the environmental 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”, we’ve also written to the CEO’s of the UK’s five 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:

River Action’s letter to the CEO’s of the UK’s four biggest supermarket retailers

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.”