Farmers question Red Tractor assurance changes

High turnout at NBA meeting to discuss plans some believe would add to bureaucracy and cause farmers to leave the scheme

NBA chairman David Thomlinson
NBA chairman David Thomlinson

The Hexham-based 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 gain assured status.

The calls come after the latest consultation on plans to extend the current 90-day rule to the lifetime of the animal.

In the first of a number of events to be held throughout the country on the issue, farmers in Devon unanimously rejected the proposed changes.

Around 70 farmers who attended at meeting at Skipton Livestock Market on February 3 also agreed lifetime assurance was a step too far, calling instead for further promotion of the current system.

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 in place to extend the scheme to sheep farmers.

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, suggested this was a major challenge that the RTA should be addressing.

“I thought the meeting in Skipton went extremely well, but it raised a number of issues,” he said.

“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 consumers, and we think this is seriously a step too far,” he said.

“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 NBA says, 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.

Cross-compliance also means farmers must meet 13 Statutory Management Regulations and 11 Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions.

The RTA is holding a number of meetings in key livestock production areas to consult on its proposals, which, if implemented, would also mean those rearing cattle would have to become farm assured and that finishers would no longer be able to buy young stock from farms that were not.

Farms would likewise 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 at 6pm.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer