RED TRACTOR farm assurance has announced a major expansion plan towards it becoming the 'flagship' brand of British food and farming.

However, that ambition faces opposition from supporters of existing Scottish farm assurance schemes, which already operate to higher standards, with some critics describing the Red Tractor as little more than a 'rubber stamp' scheme.

Perhaps with that longstanding criticism in mind, the Red Tractor's organisers are planning to create a new suite of ‘Modular Standards’ to sit alongside its core assurance, covering areas such as enhanced animal welfare, organic and environmentally sustainable production. There will also be a strengthening of its farm inspection programme with measures such as the introduction of more unannounced inspections to improve the integrity of the scheme.

Logo CEO Jim Moseley said: “I believe that this is one of the most exciting times in Red Tractor’s 19 year history and I am very proud to be leading us through these changes. Our vision is that Red Tractor is seen by shoppers, farmers and the food industry as the flagship of British food and farming.

"We know shoppers are increasingly looking for more informed choice and simple signposts to traceable, safe and responsibly produced food, which is why we are looking to extend the remit of Red Tractor. Increasing confidence in Red Tractor and the entire UK food industry is vital, particularly as we approach Brexit.”

A £1.5m national TV campaign, supported with print, digital and in-store activity, has now been launched to communicate this enhanced message to consumers.

NFU Scotland CEO Scott Walker commented: “Farmers in Scotland spend long hours on the care and attention required to produce the quality food for which Scotland is renowned. Farm Assurance underpins our quality credentials. The launch of the first National TV campaign by Red Tractor is an important step in helping consumers understand what it takes to produce the fantastic high quality food grown and reared in the UK.”

Save Scotland the Brand campaigner Ruth Watson was less diplomatic: “Scotland's Farm Assured Scheme operates to a significantly higher standard than the Little Red Tractor. In order to attain and maintain Farm Assured status a Scottish farmer must submit every part of the farm process to a physical inspection, starting from the very trailers the livestock are transported in.

"The Little Red Tractor is regarded by many in Scotland as a rubber stamp with little merit. To apply for that a farmer fills out a form and pops it in the post then has a ‘walk around the facilities with an assessor. The assessor is ‘not allowed to advise on, or suggest’ how any non-conformances might need to be corrected," she claimed.

"Having the Little Red Tractor on Scotland's food is rather like a duchess in pearls being asked to wear a bracelet made out of macaroni.”

For its part, Quality Meat Scotland noted that the quality assurance schemes behind the Scotch Beef PGI, Scotch Lamb PGI and Specially Selected Pork brands were among the first in the world and have been very successfully developed by the Scottish red meat industry.

“Our industry’s quality assurance schemes cover the whole chain – from farms and feed to hauliers, auction markets and processors and to be eligible for the Scotch brands animals must have been born, reared and slaughtered in Scotland,” said QMS director of Brands Integrity Suzanne Woodman.

“The schemes provide reassurance to consumers of provenance and high standards of production – both of which play an important part in a quality eating experience.”

Ms Woodman added that the standards behind the quality assurance schemes were regularly reviewed and updated and animal welfare was a priority in the schemes. QMS has an Animal Welfare and Wellbeing Charter and a formal partnership with the Scottish SPCA, Scotland’s leading animal welfare charity.