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Food labelling: why trust the logo?  


Photo of an assessor auditing a food business.

Traceability Challenge

28/04/23: The risk of food fraud continues to capture national headlines, following reports that a meat processing business was importing meat and marketing it as British origin.

While the business in question was not a Red Tractor licensee, this case has the potential to shake consumer confidence in British food. Red Tractor continues to work with the FSA and other food industry bodies to strengthen accountability within the supply chain.

We can also see more cases where the use of “packed in the UK” messages or New Zealand and Australian flags with prominent Union Jacks are being used on packs of imported goods. These techniques can misrepresent provenance to customers.

The Red Tractor logo is unique in demonstrating British provenance. This is because the scheme is backed by a comprehensive traceability verification process. That’s why consumers can trust it further than packaging that simply displays the Union Jack flag for example. And that’s why we always move quickly to correct any misuse of the Red Tractor logo whether deliberately or in error.

Robust, unannounced audits

Safeguarding British provenance is fundamental to the Red Tractor assurance scheme, and our criteria for how food businesses and supermarkets must use the Red Tractor logo is simple. The logo can only be used on products processed and packed in the UK which have met Red Tractor standards, and at each stage of the assurance supply chain. Any food business that makes a Red Tractor claim – whether that is carrying the logo on products, including Red Tractor as part of their marketing activities, or using Red Tractor as a buying specification – must be licensed and is subject to what we call the Traceability Challenge. This is a robust and unannounced audit of food business operators’ premises and their paperwork.

The visit, wherever it takes place within the supply chain, will take a Red Tractor claimed product and always require within a short set timeframe, evidence of the farms which have supplied it even if that means going back through multiple businesses in the chain that have handled it.

For example, a visit to a food service restaurant who is licensed to make a Red Tractor claim on the chicken they sell will be required to present trace evidence back through each Red Tractor licensed stage of the chain – such as the catering butcher, wholesaler, cutting plant and abattoir – to check that all the originating farms were Red Tractor assured.

Supply chain accountability

As we demonstrate to consumers in our advertising campaigns, the Red Tractor assurance scheme covers the entirety of a Red Tractor-labelled product’s journey to the supermarket shelf. This principle of accountability and the ability to trace provenance for any Red Tractor product are big factors in consumers’ trust in food.

£14bn worth of food produced in the UK per year now carries the Red Tractor logo. There have been two printing mistakes so far this year relating to products that carried the Red Tractor logo. In these cases, the detailed information we hold on licensees and the Traceability Challenge is an incredibly useful tool which has enabled Red Tractor to take swift action against misuse of the logo. It also allows us to identify weaknesses in the supply chain and hold businesses within it to account where improvements need to be made.

Please email us (enquiries@redtractor.org.uk) with photos if you suspect misuse of the Red Tractor label and we will investigate as a top priority and take action against food businesses where required.

We will be focusing on the Traceability Challenge in our next member webinar on Monday 22 May at 7pm, where we look forward to explaining more about the initiative and taking your questions about it. Register here.