A food chain assurance system in the United Kingdom is to undergo an overhaul to maintain consumer trust following criticism aimed at it and incidents in the sector.

Red Tractor is a food standards program established in 2000 covering animal welfare, safety, traceability and environment protection and is managed by Assured Food Standards. A new set of standards will be created covering areas such as organic, environmentally sustainable production or enriched animal welfare with a consumer-facing labeling system to improve clarity.

Red Tractor said these would give the public confidence that there is a label to satisfy their demand for traceable, safe, responsibly produced food. It added the changes are a vital component in maintaining the trust of consumers and promoting the high standards of UK farming and food production.

There have been past revelations of animal welfare breaches on farms certified by Red Tractor. Representatives were also questioned last year by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee as part of an inquiry into food safety breaches at 2 Sisters Food Group.

The Red Tractor label is used on ingredients from farmers, growers and processors that have been inspected and certified to certain standards. There are more than 78,000 Red Tractor farmers in the UK and they sell to 700 companies licensed to use the Red Tractor label on their packaging.

Jim Moseley, CEO at Red Tractor Assurance, said it strengthens standards in line with scientific advances and consumer demand.

“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,” he said.

Farms that fail Red Tractor standards will be the focus of a tougher inspection regime beginning next year with greater frequency and unannounced inspections, as well as possible expulsion from the program.

National Farmers Union president Minette Batters said the new approach would give producers a “one-stop shop” for their assurance needs and help to reduce the burden on them.

“The NFU supports this change which will help ensure the scheme remains relevant and robust, giving confidence to buyers. We recognize that this new approach to inspections needs to be practical at farm level and we will be working with Red Tractor to ensure that this is the case,” she said.

“Brexit is a game changer for British agriculture and ‘Brand Britain’ must be based on the integrity of robust food assurance. There’s never been a more important time to market and promote great British food and farming, and for us as farmers and growers to reach out to shoppers and encourage them to buy high quality, British produce.”

Phil Stocker, National Sheep Association chief executive, said it was reassuring to see a robust response to a number of recent damaging claims that risk undermining the scheme.

“The principle of a more intense inspection regime involving unannounced inspections on high risk farms, is one I think the NSA would support as long as it is recognized that sheep farms are regularly run single handed and that unannounced inspections need to be practical and considerate,” he said.

Ivor Ferguson, president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, said the changes will help reduce the administrative burden on farm businesses and improve labelling clarity to reduce consumer confusion.

“The Red Tractor scheme continues to be a key tool for farmers to ensure consumers understand the hard work they put in and the high standards to which food in the UK is produced.”

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