2014-12-17   facebooktwitterrss

Red Tractor Assurance Must Remain Practical, Logical and Justifiable

Following farmer criticism of the new Red Tractor Assurance (RTA) beef and lamb standards, and in particular the new animal health templates, the National Sheep Association (NSA) has acted and agreed to step up its involvement in the area of farm assurance for lamb.

Red Tractor Assurance has already responded on the most immediate area of concern – the animal health template issued in October – by reiterating that the template is for assistance rather than being mandatory. However, it is important that RTA scheme members appreciate the requirement still stands to capture the same animal health information, in whatever format suits farm businesses, for inspections 12 months down the line.

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NSA remains committed to the principle of farm assurance, and is also looking forward to assurance scheme members being rewarded in the future through ‘earned recognition’ and the guarantee of fewer RPA inspections. Changes to farm assurance will be required to make ‘earned recognition’ a reality, but more generally, NSA is concerned that the collective aim of increasing the number of sheep farmers being part of an assurance scheme is being jeopardised by the speed of change and associated communication.

Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, says: “Red Tractor originated as, and should continue to be, a foundation scheme that gives voluntary declaration of legal compliance. It is important that the first step onto the assurance ladder is not too great for farm businesses to sign up, and that standards for long-standing scheme members do not ‘creep up’ without clear communication or justification.

“Progress to develop standards in order to achieve ‘earned recognition’ is an example of a clearly justifiable reason for changing the standards, but must be done hand-in-hand with firm evidence that farm businesses will definitely benefit in the future. NSA is also concerned that in the rush to develop standards to catch up with legal requirements there is a risk the scheme might gold-plate legislation. This is fine for assurance schemes that want to go higher in particular areas (for example animal welfare) but is not necessary for the industry foundation.

“Examples of gold plated implementation include the detail of animal health plans and there needs to be more communication over ‘required’ and ‘recommended’ rules. It is also important that when a standard revamp is approved in principle by the farmers and stakeholders, including NSA, who sit on the board and technical committees, the logic behind it is clearly explained at farm level and implementation is made as practical as possible.”

While it has long been made public that whole life assurance is not on the agenda for lamb, NSA is aware that RTA is moving to achieve harmonisation across all sectors and is about to consult on whole life assurance for beef. NSA is concerned this move will put the sheep industry in a difficult position without advance consideration of the impact on the industry. The same is true when RTA is used as a marketing brand rather than an assurance scheme, as this risks standards being developed to suit consumer/retailer trends, again without considering the wider impact for farm businesses.

Mr Stocker continues: “We were very concerned by comments made at a recent farming conference by a supermarket wanting to raise the baseline of RTA, as this baseline scheme is sufficient for many retailers and our aim must be to get as many producers on the assurance ladder as possible. It is our view that setting the bar too high is unhelpful. Supermarkets wanting additional standards have the option to bolt these on to the basic scheme, and should pay producers accordingly.”

“NSA wants to see the industry always striving to improve performance, health, and efficiency, as well as environmental and welfare outcomes, but we want this to be achieved through farmers' own actions rather than being expected to jump through hoops. In addition, RTA standards have to relate to the practical, land related and environmentally-affected nature of sheep farming.”


Related Links
link Reduce Waste and Increase Taste in UK Lamb
link NSA to Give Away 12 Stick Reader Kits in 2015
link Make More of Mutton
link NSA Cautious on New Labelling Laws for Non-Stun Meat

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