Two TV ads, seen in September 2018, for Assured Food Standards' Red Tractor Scheme:
a. The first ad featured a voice-over which stated, "Behind a Red Tractor is peace of mind when putting food upon your table. UK farmed, meticulously checked, just look for the Red Tractor label. There are thousands of checks, thorough, widespread. From crop stores, to chicken sheds, cows and sows and what they're fed. Fruits, roots, vegetable beds. So from field to basket it feels fantastic to know we're always there to ensure your food is traceable, safe and farmed with care. Just look for the red tractor". The ad showed a red tractor towing a number of trailers, which included a family at a kitchen table, cows in a pen and vegetables being grown.
b. The second ad featured a voice-over which stated "Behind a Red Tractor is peace of mind when putting food upon your table. Traceable, safe and farmed with care, just look for the red tractor label". The ad showed a red tractor towing a trailer of a family at a kitchen table.
Twenty-eight complainants and Viva!, who believed that the Red Tractor scheme did not guarantee animal welfare, challenged whether the ads were misleading.
Assured Food Standards (AFS) said food and drink claiming to be Red Tractor could be traced from farms to pack and every stage of the supply chain was required to be certified to their standards. They said robust on-farm standards based on scientific evidence, farming best practice and consumer demand were in place on Red Tractor certified farms, including substantial animal health and welfare standards. Whilst no scheme could guarantee a particular level of welfare or that all food was risk-free, those standards were independently checked regularly by experts and the agreement farmers and food processors signed in order to be Red Tractor certified gave them access to their farm and business anytime unannounced.
AFS said there were robust food safety and bio-security standards and procedures in place to help minimise any risk to consumers and any issues were dealt with in a robust manner. They gave some examples of their standards, such as prohibiting electric goads, which were legal under UK government standards. The stocking density of chicken houses was lower in Red Tractor standards than both EU and UK legislation and Red Tractor standards required an independent annual inspection and four quarterly visits by a specialist pig vet registered in the Pig Veterinary Society, which was not required by law.
AFS said that every Red Tractor standard was routinely inspected on every farm on an annual or 18-month cycle. Inspections were carried out by independent certification bodies who were all accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS). Inspectors were trained by both the certification body and the Red Tractor to ensure consistency and quality of inspection against their standards. Their technical advisory panel, which drove changes to their standards, were made up of experts from across the food chain, including scientists, vets, consumer experts, farms, retailers in the dairy sector and a representative from the RSPCA.
AFS said they carried out extensive consumer research over the last 18 months and found that apart from price, consumers were most concerned with traceability, food safety, animal welfare, ethics and sustainability, and independent sources of trust in responsibly produced food; their standards covered all of those areas. They were also conscious of using images that represented the majority of farms certified to Red Tractor standards. For example, the ad clearly depicted indoor chicken production, the most commonly used chicken production process in the UK.
Clearcast said that neither of the ads guaranteed animal welfare. They said that they asked for full, robust details on what the Red Tractor Scheme did before clearance, along with their checks and assurances. They said that AFS went to great lengths to demonstrate that they carried out numerous checks on-farm and throughout the food chain (farm to pack) to ensure everything was to industry standards.
Clearcast understood AFS did more checks than anyone else in the industry. They acknowledged things could go wrong, but the checks minimised the risks and instilled consumer confidence. They also felt that the visuals in the ad were a fair and representative way of showing what AFS did.
Ads (a) and (b) both showed a red tractor towing trailers with various scenes that the ASA considered viewers would associate with the food production process from the origin of the produce to the point at which it was consumed. The words “traceable, safe and farmed with care” were heard in both ads and we considered that viewers would interpret from those words, in addition to the words “UK farmed, meticulously checked” and “There are thousands of checks, thorough, widespread” in ad (a) that all of the scheme’s produce had been inspected thoroughly from the origin of production to ensure its safety for consumption. We recognised that what constituted an appropriate degree of animal welfare on farms was a subjective issue, but in the context of the ads we considered viewers would understand that the scheme had enforceable standards in place that went beyond those required for the farming of livestock.
We acknowledged the information provided by AFS, which demonstrated that standards had been put in place for livestock, crops, dairy products and other fresh produce. The standards in place for livestock were detailed for each animal and included requirements for housing, shelter and handling facilities, its feed and water, its transportation, the responsible use of agricultural chemicals and the animal’s health and welfare. Within the health and welfare standards, livestock had to be handled in a way that avoided injury and minimised stress, and quietly and calmly without excessive force.
Free range birds, for example, had to be provided with sufficient access to feed, with adequate access to a fresh, clean supply of drinking water. The automatic equipment within their housing had to be checked once a day to ensure they were fit for purpose and all persons looking after their health and welfare had to be demonstrably competent to do so, by showing skills and knowledge in normal and abnormal bird behaviour, signs of good and poor health and disease, correct handling and litter management.
We acknowledged the veterinary health plan put in place for pigs and the information showed that procedures covered the whole of the production cycle. The plan considered trends in health and performance records and was performed at least quarterly to help proactively manage and improve pigs’ health and welfare. Other animals had similar checks, with an annual health and performance review required to be undertaken by a vet under the beef and lamb standards. That included identifying key issues and making recommendations to improve identified issues, reviewing medicine records and considering initiatives to support the welfare of the animal.
Based on the information provided by AFS, we considered the scenes in the ads which included animals, such as those showing cows in a pen and chickens in indoor housing, were representative of the conditions under which they would be kept and that they were shown to be portraying regular behaviour such as roaming and feeding.
Because standards had been put in place to protect the safety of the Red Tractor scheme’s produce, that those standards went beyond those required for the farming of livestock and a regime of inspection of adherence to those standards was in place, we concluded that the ads were not misleading.
We investigated ads (a) and (b) under BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 3.12 3.12 Advertisements must not mislead by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product or service. (Exaggeration), but did not find them in breach.
No further action necessary.