Farm inspection overhaul welcomed by industry

By Aidan Fortune

- Last updated on GMT

Red Tractor will introduce unannounced audits for members that are failing to meet its standards
Red Tractor will introduce unannounced audits for members that are failing to meet its standards
Red Tractor’s decision to get tougher on farms that are not compliant with its welfare standards has been welcomed by the UK farming industry.

The assurance scheme has announced proposals to introduce increased inspections and unannounced audits for members that are failing to meet Red Tractor standards, as well as plans to introduce additional modular standards that would cover specific criteria such as organic or enriched animal welfare.

Both initiatives are expected to roll out in 2019, while a new £1.5m marketing campaign to highlight Red Tractor is debuting on TV and will run for five weeks.

National Farmers Union president Minette Batters said the new regime would give more confidence to consumers. “The Red Tractor standards continue to evolve with the introduction of a risk-based approach to farm inspections.

“The NFU supports this change, which will help ensure the scheme remains relevant and robust, giving confidence to buyers. We recognise 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.

‘Help to reduce the burden’

“Red Tractor’s new modular approach to assurance will give producers a one-stop shop for their assurance needs and help to reduce the burden placed on them. There is also the potential to offer a clear and comprehensive labelling scheme for shoppers.

“Red Tractor continues to be a vital part of the UK food supply chain and these changes will help further improve customer confidence in the logo.”

Phil Stocker, National Sheep Association (NSA) chief executive, said: “I welcome this announcement from Red Tractor Assurance. It’s reassuring to see a robust response to a number of recent damaging claims that risk undermining the value of the scheme, and it’s also good to see other new initiatives underway.

“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 recognised that sheep farms are regularly run single-handedly and that unannounced inspections need to be practical and considerate.

“I’m also delighted that Red Tractor Assurance is launching a new TV advertising campaign, and will be watching the development of different scheme modules closely.

‘A range of different assurance modules’

“It makes complete sense to me for Red Tractor Assurance to offer a range of different assurance modules to cater for different consumer and farmer interests. We are not a ‘one standard society’.”

Wesley Aston, Ulster Farmers Union chief executive, also welcomed Red Tractor’s modular assurance plan.

“Against the background of Brexit, it's more important now than ever that we promote and communicate our farming and food production standards to our own consumers.

“The modular broadening of the scheme’s standards will also help address consumer confusion around labelling and reduce the burden on farm businesses.

“Consumer confidence can also be assured in the robustness of the scheme’s high standards with the strengthening of the already comprehensive inspection programme to include risk-based unannounced inspections and we will be engaging with Red Tractor to ensure that this is implemented in a practical manner on farms.”

Zoe Davies, National Pig Association chief executive, said that a “Red Tractor scheme that embraces industry and an industry that embraces Red Tractor must surely be the greatest assurance consumers both in this country and beyond can have”​.

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