Food certification and assurance schemes

Food assurance schemes - such as Red Tractor and the Lion logo for eggs - guarantee defined standards of food safety or animal welfare.

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In the UK, food assurance schemes help to provide consumers and businesses with guarantees that food has been produced to particular standards. These schemes are mainly voluntary arrangements although many food businesses make certification in an assurance scheme a specification requirement for their suppliers.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) maintains close contact with assurance schemes because of their potential to promote farm practices that contribute to recommended policy. They also monitor whether communications and claims made by assurance schemes are accurate.

The Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is not responsible for any specific policy for food assurance schemes, but does encourage membership by farmers who can help build consumer confidence and gain new market opportunities for produce through required standards.

In this guide you will find information on the Red Tractor food assurance scheme and details where you can find further information.

UK food assurance scheme guidance

Generally, food assurance schemes are run as product certification schemes that are accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS). These schemes use regular independent inspections to check that members are meeting specific standards and often use logos on consumer products to indicate this fulfilment. You can find a full list of UKAS certification bodies on the UKAS website.

The leading food assurance schemes aim to define the standards that most producers in the sector should meet. Over time, these schemes intend to raise standards to improve the overall standard of the entire sector. Two of the leading schemes which can be recognised from their logos on food packs are:

  • Assured Food Standards (Red Tractor)
  • Lion Eggs - a quality code of practice that ensures eggs have been produced to the highest standards of food safety

There are also other food assurance schemes associated with Red Tractor, such as:

  • the Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) - offers consumers a legal guarantee that the meat they buy has come from animals that have spent their whole lives being raised to very strict standards
  • Farm Assured Welsh Livestock (FAWL) - strengthens consumer confidence by providing assurance of farm standards in Wales
  • the Northern Ireland Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (NIFQAS) - provides high standards for farmed meat in Northern Ireland

There are also food assurance schemes that do not use logos on finished food products but whose objective is to ensure that consumers can have confidence in the raw ingredients and farm techniques used to produce food. For example:

  • Scottish Quality Cereals (SQC) - a food safety certification scheme for crops that ensures high standards of farm management and operations and therefore the wholesomeness or safety of the food produced or the health of the environment or countryside
  • the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) - an assurance scheme for animal feed and fertiliser sold to professional and non-professional users, and on documentation accompanying grain for feed and food use

There are a number of smaller ‘niche’ schemes that aim to meet particular consumer demands, such as higher animal welfare and environmental or organic standards.

Food Standard Agency best practice guidance

In 2008, the FSA undertook a review of food assurance schemes and how they conformed to FSA guidance. The review covered all schemes in the UK market, such as those mentioned above.

In this and previous guidance, the FSA has made best practice recommendations for food assurance schemes, including:

  • setting and delivery of production standards - establishing an independent standard setting board that should include a consumer representative
  • balancing the increase in standards against market returns
  • improving food safety issues of special concern to consumers, such as veterinary health plans or pesticide residues
  • assurance from birth in beef and lamb schemes
  • developing agri-environmental standards
  • obtaining accreditation from UKAS
  • ensuring inspections are carried out by a certification body that is independent from the standard-setting body
  • effective administration by establishing databases for better statistical information
  • developing key performance indicators (KPIs) to establish benchmarks which measure scheme progress
  • increasing transparency for the consumer by publishing detailed information about data on monitoring and non-compliance, where the legal minimum is exceeded, the development of KPIs and scheme governance
  • establishing links with official sites that contain relevant food safety, animal welfare and environmental data
  • publishing clear consumer information on logos - if a logo covers several different schemes those schemes should ensure that standards are comparable
  • electronic coding to increase product traceability
  • encouraging schemes to develop their own quality specifications
  • strong integration with Assured Food Standards schemes to allow a more commercial view of market opportunities and improve consumer profile

Download food assurance scheme reviews from the FSA website. (PDF, 451KB)

Red Tractor

Red Tractor is an independent UK whole chain food assurance scheme which assures high standards of food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection from farm to pack. The Red Tractor logo is the leading quality kitemark in the UK.

Red Tractor producers are overseen by Assured Food Standards (AFS) who carry out independent inspections to confirm that businesses are meeting certain standards, such as food safety, animal welfare and the environment.

The Red Tractor logo covers many schemes, with the majority of food being grown, processed and packed in Britain - signified by the Union Jack flag. Read more on the Red Tractor website.

What the Red Tractor does

By unifying different sector standards under a single AFS umbrella, the Red Tractor mark provides:

  • independent reassurance that high standards are being met
  • an easily recognisable symbol intended to give total confidence when shopping
  • independent inspectors checking on issues such as animal health and welfare and environmental protection measures

Red Tractor membership through farm assurance helps to provide a steady market for farmers’ produce. The Red Tractor logo provides recognition for the care and attention a producer has invested in meeting high standards. This can help increase sales, as conscientious consumers increasingly look out for the Red Tractor logo.

Red Tractor products

When shopping for food, the Red Tractor logo seeks to provide assurance that the food has been checked every step of the way - from farm to pack - and can be traced back to the farm source.

The Red Tractor logo appears on primary products such as:

  • meat: beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey
  • dairy: milk, cheese, cream
  • cereals and flour
  • fruit, vegetables and salads
  • sugar

The logo can also be used to highlight that the main ingredient of a food with more than one ingredient is assured, such as beef in a sausage. For a mixed ingredient food to be able to display the logo the main ingredient must:

  • be named
  • come from the usual assured chain
  • be at least 65% of the total product
  • be 100% assured - cannot contain any additional main ingredient from another source that is not assured

Management and control

The Red Tractor logo can only be used under licence from AFS, with principal ingredient products being authorised on a case-by-case basis.

To ensure that rules are being followed, all the producers and processors under the Red Tractor scheme are audited by independent inspectors. It is also a Red Tractor rule that processors and packers work to the standards of the British Retail Consortium Global Standard.

Organisations that can help on food assurance

There are several organisations that can provide you with further information and support on food assurance schemes.

The FSA is responsible for drawing up legislation based on EU regulations or directives on the composition, labelling, marketing and safety of food and animal feed, for guidance on compliance with feed hygiene requirements and for ensuring that food law and animal feed law is enforced. You can contact the Food Standards Agency helpline on 020 7276 8829.

Defra is responsible for policy and regulations on the environment, food and rural affairs. Defra’s milk trade team deals with regulations relating to the nutritional content of drinking milk. You can also call the Defra helpline on 08459 33 55 77.

AFS is an independent organisation that manages, develops and promotes the Red Tractor scheme, the largest food assurance scheme in the UK.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) is the largest farming organisation in the UK, providing support for members locally, nationally and internationally. Read about the work and services of the NFU on their website.

As a farmer, you are also likely to come into contact with local authorities, which are responsible for enforcing various regulations on farming, land use, food standards and environmental matters. Your local authority may also be able to provide further information or resources.

Further information

Food Standards Agency helpline

020 7276 8829

Defra helpline

08459 33 55 77

Food standards (labelling and composition) information on the Defra website

Download food assurance scheme reviews from the FSA website (PDF, 451KB)

UKAS certification bodies on the UKAS website

Red Tractor information on the Red Tractor website

FSA work and services information on the FSA website

Defra work and services information on the Defra website

NFU work and services information on the NFU website

Published 19 September 2012