Sainsbury’s have announced that they are dropping the Red Tractor logo on packaging in their stores. This decision follows a review of the information they put on packaging, partly they say, in response to confusion amongst consumers over too many labels on food. Sainsbury’s also say forthcoming changes to EU laws on food labelling have prompted this move.

Personally, as a producer, I am one of those who sometimes question the value of ‘tick box’ farm assurance schemes such as Red Tractor. But, the Assured Food Standards scheme waves the Union Jack and gives consumers some assurance about the provenance of their food and I support that.

What really concerns me about Sainsbury’s announcement is that it marks another step in the direction towards increasing retailer control. They obviously want to set their own standards, which should start alarm bells ringing amongst farmers. This move, by an influential retailer, now threatens to erase what little recognition producers get for the role they play in delivering high quality food to the nation and you can be sure it won’t be long before Tesco, ASDA, Morrisons and others follow in their wake.

Amidst recent, angry protest at the low milk prices paid to dairy farmers by retailers and processors, Sainsbury’s have emerged as one of the ‘good guys’, paying their 340 suppliers in excess of 30 pence a litre. But their decision to no longer recognise the Red Tractor will have a damaging affect across all agricultural sectors. This won’t be apparent immediately, but it will accelerate the erosion of the value placed on British farms and farmers – unless they are under Sainsbury’s control of course. This is taking from farmers by stealth.

Perhaps farmers should park their red tractors in Sainsbury’s car parks and explain to shoppers that it is producers who will ‘Taste the Difference’ following the removal of the Red Tractor logo and a bitter taste it will be too.

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