FAQs | Red Tractor Assured Food Standards


The Red Tractor team of experts has put together a page of FAQ’s, covering all aspects of our business and what we stand for.
Red Tractor - the organisation
Red Tractor - the organisation
Assured Food Standards was established in the spring of 2000, and the Red Tractor was launched in the summer of the same year. At that time the public were faced with a plethora of food standards and labels. AFS and the Red Tractor mark were set up to help harmonise the approach to standard setting and inspection throughout the supply chain and to give the public a mark of quality, safe, affordable food that they could recognise and trust.We believe that the Red Tractor has a major role to play in the future of food and farming – by promoting recognition of professionally produced assured food, and by boosting the reputation of food production in the UK. We do this by first establishing the benchmark for production standards and then carrying out regular and robust inspections to ensure that producers, processors and other operators continually meet those standards. The Red Tractor is a food assurance scheme which covers production standards developed by experts on safety, hygiene, animal welfare and the environment amongst other things.

We all want to know that the food we are buying is safe and this only comes from knowing where the raw ingredients come from and the standards to which they are produced, which is why all suppliers in the Red Tractor food chain are inspected and certified by an independent professional body. The Red Tractor certifies that food has been produced to independently inspected standards right across the food chain – from farm to pack.
By the late 1990s there were so many different 'food assured' claims and logos on food packs that it was becoming difficult for shoppers to make sense of them. So British consumers were asked what assurances they really wanted and they asked for a definitive, easy-to-spot symbol of assurance that food had been farmed and produced to independently inspected standards. The Red Tractor scheme started by UK farmers, food producers and retailers working together to make sure that the food that you buy meets the standards that you expect for you and your family. The scheme was launched by the Prime Minister on 13 June 2000. Red Tractor Assurance is a small organisation, and its administrative costs are met by assurance fees and licence payments from farmers and food companies. We are owned by the entire food industry but we operate independently on a not-for-profit basis, with an independent chairman in charge of our affairs. This enables us to benefit from a wide range of experience and expertise without giving any one organisation or link in the supply chain undue influence. The interests represented on our board relate to each of the key links in the food chain, with representatives of the National Farmers' Union, the Ulster Farmers' Union, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, Dairy UK and the British Retail Consortium. The Food and Drink Federation provides valued input. The Board also includes independent experts – prominent academics and specialist scientists, plus professionals representing consumers, veterinary science and the environment. Red Tractor Assurance sets the assurance standards that apply to the farm assurance schemes and to different links in the food chain. They actively manage the certification bodies that police those standards. At the point of packaging they define the conditions for the Red Tractor mark and license the packers who display it on their packs to ensure that the Red Tractor is only ever seen on food that is qualified to carry it. The Red Tractor can only be used on food that has been produced, packed, stored and transported to Red Tractor standards. The standards in all farming sectors (such as chicken, dairy or vegetables) have been agreed by a panel of experts to ensure that the food is safe and that the animals are well treated.
What standards does Red Tractor maintain?
What standards does Red Tractor maintain?
All of the Red Tractor assurance schemes operate to the international standard ISO Guide 65, which is the European Standard EN45011. This guarantees that the independent inspectors are properly trained and sufficiently experienced. In all there are over 450 inspectors working on the Red Tractor scheme and they conduct over 60,000 inspections a year. By law, most food must be labeled with its country of origin on the label although this is not always easy to find. The Red Tractor logo includes a statement of origin in the flag device and when you see the Union Jack you can be sure the food has come from UK farms. The Red Tractor is protected by trademark and only approved packers can use the logo. Food businesses must be licensed by Red Tractor Assurance (RTA) before they can use the logo. And the licensing rules give us the right to check packers and their supply chain to make sure that the logo is only appearing on food that meets the high standards. The Red Tractor can only be used on food that has been produced, packed, stored and transported to Red Tractor standards. The standards in all farming sectors (such as chicken, dairy or vegetables) have been agreed by a panel of experts to ensure that the food is safe and that the animals are well treated. There are currently over 78,000 Red Tractor farmers in the UK, and they sell their food to one of 350 Red Tractor packers licensed to use the Red Tractor on their packaging. Food companies of all sizes, from a family-run salad grower to large dairy processors, use the mark. Red Tractor farmers use antibiotics responsibly – for the health and welfare of the animals in their care. 
Everyone is becoming aware that antibiotics are precious and must be used responsibly both in human medicine and veterinary practice.  But farm animals, just like people, can suffer from infectious diseases which may cause pain, distress and sometimes death.  When this happens the farmer and his veterinary advisor have difficult choices to make.  In many cases antibiotics are the best option.  The Red Tractor scheme encourages its members to use them responsibly, which means using as little as possible but as much as is necessary.  It is always a difficult balance between using antibiotics as little as possible but at the same time preventing animal suffering. 
UK agriculture is a leader in this responsible approach and the Red Tractor scheme helps to support that position.  The Red Tractor scheme does not simply issue guidance.  Farms are inspected regularly and robustly against the standards and those who do not conform to our standards cannot be part of the Red Tractor supply chain.  Red Tractor checks that guidelines for responsible use are followed.
Red Tractor has promoted responsible use over 20 years.  When the scheme first began the main concern was residues in meat and milk.  It is well known that during treatment there are undesirable residues of antibiotics but these disappear fairly rapidly once treatment stops.  Red Tractor farmers must keep clear records of every animal treated and the meat or milk cannot be sold for food until an agreed period has elapsed since the last treatment.  Regular surveillance testing has shown that the British industry has an excellent record on residue levels. 
More recently the focus has shifted to microbial resistance.  Some disease bacteria are no longer affected by the antibiotics that previously were able to kill them and cure disease.  This is a major worry for both human and animal health.  The UK industry supported by the Red Tractor scheme already has standards to respond to this threat.  Red Tractor proposes to further enhance these standards during 2017.
Prevention is better than cure.  The Red Tractor scheme has always known that good housing conditions, good nutrition, good hygiene and all around good husbandry can help to prevent infection taking hold in the first place.  All of these conditions have always been at the heart of Red Tractor standards.  
Consumers are often further confused by myths and rumours about drugs used in farm animals allegedly to make them grow more quickly.  Hormones, still used in some parts of the world, are not used by British farmers.  So called antibiotic “growth promoters” are also never used.  EU regulations banned these more than ten years ago but the Red Tractor scheme stopped their use several years before.  Red Tractor inspects every pig and poultry farm in the scheme every year so we can be confident that these standards are followed.
Red Tractor works with some of the best experts in the UK on this topic.  Red Tractor has been a member of RUMA – the alliance for Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture - for many years.  RUMA brings together experts from across the food and farming industry with veterinarians and provides sound advice on best practice.   
Buying Red Tractor food
Buying Red Tractor food
Red Tractor assured food is available from all the major supermarkets and a growing number of food service outlets when eating out. Our food assurances our applied to a growing number of food and drink produced in the UK such as meat, poultry, dairy, seasonal fruits and vegetables and crops based products such as flour cereals and even beer. Look for the logo on pack and on menu, on a wide range of supermarket own brands and products like Countrylife butter, cheese and milk, Silver Spoon sugar and even beers like Greene King and Youngs.  The Red Tractor logo can only be used to label ingredients from farmers, growers and food processors that have been inspected and certified to the standards we specify. To make sure this happens, we only allow the use of the Red Tractor logo under licence.Our licensing applies to anyone in the food supply chain who puts the Red Tractor logo on a food or food product. This could be a salad grower that has its own packing operation on the farm, or a meat business that receives fresh, farm-assured meat from its suppliers for cutting and packing.In signing our licence agreement, packers undertake only to put the Red Tractor logo on products eligible to carry it. They also agree to some arrangements that help us to validate that they are using the logo appropriately. They must keep records of incoming raw materials and production batches to allow full traceability back to the farms of origin. They must also agree that RTA can visit their premises to examine these records and check their systems.Using this right of access, RTA manages a comprehensive inspection programme to underpin the integrity of the Red Tractor logo. This work is done for us by CMi, SAI Global and the Scottish Agricultural College, all of which have particular skills in different industry sectors. In the interests of efficiency these three audit bodies are asked to combine, where possible, our Red Tractor traceability audits with other work they do at the same facility. When assigning Red Tractor audits we select the inspection organisation that will be best able to combine its inspection with other work on the same site. Multi-ingredient products must contain at least 95% Red Tractor certified ingredients to be labelled as Red Tractor products. We permit up to 5% non-Red Tractor ingredients to allow for minor ingredients such as seasoning, herbs and spices. We will allow processors to use the logo to highlight that the main ingredient is produced to Red Tractor standards, for example the pork in a sausage or the potato in a potato salad.

A few conditions apply:
  • There must be a note on the label to make it clear that the logo refers to one ingredient and not the entire product. This could be one simple word next to the logo naming the ingredient. Design criteria are available from Red Tractor.
  • The named ingredient must comprise at least 65% of the food.
  • The named ingredient must meet the normal assurance criteria.
  • All of the named ingredient must be assured (for example all the pork ingredients of the sausage must be from assured sources). It is not acceptable for some of the pork to be assured – enough to meet the 65% criterion – but topped up with other pork ingredients from non-assured sources.
Red Tractor meat must comply with detailed standards to ensure proper hygiene and safety and good welfare for animals on the farm, during transport from the farm, and in the processing plant.  Red Tractor meat must be stunned before slaughter in line with all legislation, Codes of Good Practice and the guidelines of the Humane Slaughter Association.

Red Tractor meat might also comply with other standards or labels.  For example it could be organic, fed on specific diets, come from animals of a particular breed or meet cultural standards such as Halal.  These additional claims are outside the control of Red Tractor except that we will not allow the use of Red Tractor logo if any of the Red Tractor standards are compromised.  

Some people seem confused by the fact that Halal meat could also comply with mainstream standards.  Whilst we are not responsible for Halal certification, we do know that the majority of Halal meat processed in this country is stunned before slaughter.  A report by the Government’s Food Standards Agency in 2012 indicated that 88% of Halal meat is stunned.

So in short, Red Tractor meat is not Halal.  But some Halal meat could also be Red Tractor provided that it complies with all of our standards including stunning prior to slaughter.

For more information on Red Tractor meat processing standards please click here.
This note clarifies the position of the Red Tractor scheme with regard to raw drinking milk particularly in light of outbreaks of E coli food poisoning in the autumn of 2014.

The Red Tractor dairy farm assurance scheme includes standards and inspections designed to minimise the contamination of milk, to ensure good health and welfare for the dairy cows and to control environmental pollution. Whilst the scheme includes a comprehensive range of hygiene controls we know that there is ample scientific and epidemiological evidence to show that, despite best efforts, raw milk might be contaminated, sometimes with bacteria that can cause human illness.

Almost all milk in the UK is pasteurised, that is subject to a heat treatment which renders the milk safe, and pasteurised milk has a long and very distinguished track record as being amongst the safest of foods.

The Red Tractor dairy farm assurance scheme assumes that the careful attention to hygiene on the farm will be followed up with a pasteurisation step in the bottling plant. We believe that the two processes must go hand in hand. The Red Tractor logo will only appear on drinking milk that is both farm assured and properly pasteurised.

Red Tractor farm assurance is not intended to provide any guarantee that farm assured milk is suitable for drinking without pasteurisation.
For poultry meat and eggs there is a clear legal definition for 'Free Range' which means that the birds must have the option to leave the house and range free at any time.  There is no similar definition for dairy cows.  The British climate is ideal for the growth of pasture for many months of the year but equally there are long periods in the winter when cows are housed indoors for their welfare.  This provides shelter from the weather and they can be fed when grass is not growing.  So no cows are raised entirely outdoors in Britain.

The term 'free range' dairy has been coined unofficially by some producers but their definition means that the cows may spend as little as 180 days grazing at pasture.  Many would say that it is misleading.

Red Tractor dairy farms must meet high standards at all times to assure the welfare of the animals and the safety of the milk. We inspect all the farms regularly to ensure that the standards are maintained.
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