2015-02-06   facebook twitter rss

Is Red Tractor the Right Vehicle to Promote Beef ?

The National Beef Association (NBA) is urging the Red Tractor Assurance (RTA) scheme to reconsider its plans to increase how long an animal has to be on-farm to be assured.

It comes after the latest consultation about plans to extend the current 90 days to the lifetime of the animal questioned whether the RTA scheme is the right one for farm assurance.

NBA Chairman - David Thomlinson

NBA Chairman - David Thomlinson

Around 70 people attended the meeting at Skipton Livestock Market, North Yorks, on Tuesday February 3. It followed a similar event at Cullompton, Devon, organised by the NBA, the National Farmers Union and National Sheep Association, where farmers unanimously rejected the plan to extend the approval time from 90 days to the lifetime of the animal.

Farmers meeting at Skipton agreed that lifetime assurance is a step too far and instead called for further promotion of the 90-day rule.

NBA chairman, David Thomlinson, said:
“I believe the Red Tractor is the vehicle that is currently best-placed to provide the assurance the red meat industry needs.

“However, at this point only 50% of beef producers are farm assured. Obviously, the ultimate goal would be for beef to be lifetime assured, not just 90 days, but it does worry me greatly that if we push too hard now, more farmers will drop out of the scheme.

“This will affect the number of animals in the national beef suckler herd, and we cannot afford for this to drop any lower.”

Mr Thomlinson also raised concerns that there are currently no plans to extend the scheme for sheep farmers.

He added: “It was quite telling that the RTA could not answer why it wanted beef farmers, but not sheep farmers, to be lifetime assured.”

A number of supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer, do not use the Red Tractor as a sign of assurance.

John Geldard, who farms 150 suckler cows at Low Foulshaw Farm in Cumbria, believes this is a major challenge that the RTA should be addressing.

He said: “I thought the meeting went extremely well, but it raised a number of issues.

“One of the challenges for the Red Tractor board to consider is whether the Red Tractor is the right symbol, over and above the Union Jack. We know that 50% to 60% of people recognise what the Red Tractor stands for, but 90% of consumers would recognise a Union Jack on their meat products.”

He also echoed concerns about extending the assurance period.

“Lifetime assurance would be detrimental to farmers, processors, retailers and to consumers and we think this is seriously a step too far,” said Mr Geldard.

“The current 90 day assurance on farms is something that is working well for us, and we believe it would be beneficial to promote this rather than push too far for the full lifetime assurance.

“It is important that consumers are made aware of the additional legislation we now farm under.”

Since the introduction of the Red Tractor 17 years ago, the amount of bureaucracy livestock farmers face has spiralled. Inspections are now carried out by the Rural Payment Agency, Trading Standards, DEFRA Animal Health vets and farmers’ own vets for TB testing. Plus, cross-compliance means they must meet 13 Statutory Management Regulations and 11 Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions.

David Thomlinson, and John Geldard agreed with the views of Thomas Binns who spoke eloquently regarding the needs of farm assurance but believes that the 90 days serves well and doesn’t need to be changed.

The RTA is holding a number of meetings in key livestock production areas to consult on its proposals. The planned changes would also mean those rearing cattle would have to become farm assured and finishers would no longer be able to buy young stock from farms which were not. Plus, farms would be required to pay £150 a year to become farm assured and would be need to deal with additional paperwork, regulations and inspections.

The next open consultation meeting will be held at the Warwicks Complex, Stoneleigh Park, on Thursday February 12 at 6pm.


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